St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter is scheduled to begin a lengthy rehabilitation process on Monday, as he will graduate from throwing a weighted ball into a net to throwing an actual baseball into an actual glove. This is just one of many future checkpoints for the oft-injured Carpenter, who was originally projected to begin a throwing program in the middle of June. While it’s still very early in the recovery process for the veteran right-hander, he appears to be ahead of schedule at this point.
Carpenter, a former Cy Young winner and member of the Cardinal rotation since 2004, was originally diagnosed with a bulging disk in his neck early in spring training, but when the nerve irritation spread to his shoulder, he was shut down indefinitely. The St. Louis rotation has handled his loss smoothly thanks to the surprising performance of Lance Lynn. Despite the rotation’s strong showing in 2012 (as a whole, it ranks third in baseball with its collective 5.6 WAR), the bullpen situation has been unexpectedly shaky, and Carpenter’s return would allow the Cardinals to move Lynn back to relief work to reinforce that weakness.
Whatever the Cardinals have planned for Carpenter’s return, it will still be a long wait at this point. If Carpenter continues to pass all subsequent throwing tests free of pain, he will eventually need a short rehab stint in the minors to get game ready. Even ahead of schedule, it’s still extremely unlikely that Carpenter will make his first major league start of 2012 before the All-Star break.
By no means does this development guarantee the road to recovery will be a smooth journey. Carpenter experienced nerve issues that ended his season in 2004 as well as in 2008, so further complications are still possible and expectations are best kept under control for now. For the struggling Cardinals, however, this is still encouraging news.