Just as St. Louis Cardinals fans thought we were going to get our twin aces back, they’re gone just like that. Last year it was Adam Wainwright needing Tommy John surgery. This time, it’s Chris Carpenter who has been shut down indefinitely with no current timetable for a return.
A couple weeks ago Carpenter was diagnosed with a bulging cervical disc. That’s in the neck and it can cause stiffness, pain, and numbness in your arms. For a pitcher, that’s problematic. As soon as I heard, I expected it would easily set him back at least a month in his preparations for the season. Since then he has been being treated by the team and had a limited throwing schedule. It appears that today the team decided he wasn’t making enough progress and shut him down. He has now returned to St. Louis for further tests, including potential nerve damage.
What’s scary for Cardinals’ fans is that Carpenter dealt with nerve issues before, during the 2007 and 2008 seasons where he made a total of 5 starts between the two years. Is this a major issue that will take the entire season to rectify or will he be back in April or May? We hope to find that out over the next week or two.
What will this mean for the Cardinals going forward?
First off, Kyle Lohse will now start on Opening Day in Miami as they open the new Marlins ballpark. Adam Wainwright will take the home opener against the Chicago Cubs.
Secondly, Lance Lynn is a name we should all be familiar with. He made two starts last year replacing Kyle McClellan in the rotation while he dealt with an injury. While Lynn was pounded for 5 runs in his first start, he held Houston to just 1 run over 5 innings in his second start. It earned the praise of then manager Tony La Russa who said that Lynn could be a good starting pitcher at the major league level. That is high praise coming from La Russa. A couple weeks later, Lynn was back with the big club in a mop-up role in the bullpen.
That only lasted a couple appearances. In his second relief appearance, Lynn threw 2 innings and struck out 5. He quickly established himself as a reliable late innings guy, posting a 2.22 ERA in 24 bullpen innings before suffering an oblique strain. He would come back in the NLCS, throwing 5 scoreless innings of relief against the Brewers. His World Series was less impressive, but he was definitely considered to be a shoe-in for the bullpen in 2012.
The problem with Carpenter was early enough that they were able to switch Lynn back into starting form and stretch him out to take Carpenter’s place in the rotation. For the second time in two years, a guy expected to play a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ bullpen is being pressed into service in the rotation. And Lynn has been impressive so far, most recently holding the Braves to just two hits over five innings. With his recent experience as a starting pitcher in Memphis, Lynn should be better prepared to start that McClellan was last year.
The Cardinals’ option B might very well be a guy like Roy Oswalt who is still available on the free agent market. If Carpenter proves to be a long-term injury and Lynn stumbles out of the box, I wouldn’t be against the acquisition for Oswalt if he can be gotten on a one-year contract.
Carpenter put the Cardinals on his arm and basically single-handedly won Game 5 of the NLDS and then Game 7 of the World Series. He’s not the stud pitcher he once was, however. His stats should be able to be handily replaced by Lynn. What Lynn may not be able to replace is Carpenter’s ace-like mentality on the mound. It will certainly become one of the most interesting things to watch this season.