Strauss: Cards losing more than a pitcher

2013-02-06T12:15:00Z 2014-03-12T13:16:16Z Strauss: Cards losing more than a pitcherBY JOE STRAUSS, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist stltoday.com

When someone gets hurt, the Cardinals typically put out a statement.

When it’s something worse, the Cardinals put on suits.

When general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny walked into Tuesday afternoon’s news conference at Busch Stadium, both men wore business attire: coat, tie and firm expressions. This was not business casual, but rather serious business. A possibility the club had confronted numerous times but somehow avoided in recent years had become reality.

On Friday, Chris Carpenter, his voice wavering, phoned Mozeliak to inform him: “I can’t pitch.”

Carpenter didn’t mean he couldn’t pitch that day, or this week, or couldn’t take his first couple turns during next month’s Grapefruit League play.

This time, the implication is Carpenter can’t pitch for good.

“He’s hurt,” Matheny said. “There’s no manuscript for how you handle the adversity that comes, especially late in your career. It doesn’t make it easy, even if you’re prepared.”

Concussion syndrome prematurely ended Matheny’s Gold Glove career as a catcher. He and Mozeliak spoke repeatedly over the weekend with Carpenter, who stayed away from Tuesday’s announcement while contemplating his medical options.

Mozeliak described Carpenter as sad and, though no conversation took place in person, called the player’s words Friday “teary-eyed.” The general manager said little about outside options to compensate for Carpenter’s absence, instead referring to the bank of young arms featuring Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal. Before last weekend, the club looked at the trio as depth. Now they’re a necessity.

“If we looked before at eight guys for five spots, now it’s seven for five spots,” Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals know well Carpenter’s capacity to pitch with pain; however, this is a more lasting sort for both player and organization. Carpenter repeatedly cheated his career’s Reaper, emerging from a second shoulder surgery, two elbow operations and the baffling neurological disorder that finally forced him to submit to a radical procedure last July that included removal of his first rib.

Viewed clinically, Carpenter provided 30 2/3 innings last September and October after a compressed rehab. His velocity diminished, Carpenter somehow worked 5 2/3 shutout innings to win Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals. He was almost defenseless against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series, using more guile than stuff while lasting a combined eight innings within two losses.

Carpenter knew he had to be better to continue. As he said repeatedly before last season’s return, “I’ve got to find out for myself and find out for the team if it’s going to work.”

This time is different. This time it didn’t.

The men in suits spoke confidently Tuesday about what their young arms represent. Kelly pitched beyond his experience level in place of Jaime Garcia last summer. Miller carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of an Oct. 3 start, a 1-0 win against the Cincinnati Reds. The precocious Rosenthal manufactures triple-digit heat.

Mozeliak and Matheny enjoy the leverage offered by a player development system recently ranked No. 1 in the industry by Baseball America and ESPN. A wave of talent approaches an organization once considered overwhelmingly reliant on trades and free agency for its success. But now the Cardinals miss Carpenter, who provided them 492 innings in 2010-11, and Kyle Lohse, still a free agent after offering 419 innings and a deceptively low 30 regular-season wins in 2011-12.

Kelly, Miller and Rosenthal have amassed 143.1 innings and 17 starts in the major leagues. Their exposure could grow depending on Garcia’s problematic left shoulder, which shut him down twice last season and remains an open question as pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla., this weekend.

The Cardinals lose more than a pitcher. They lose a presence that provided leadership wrapped in edge.

Carpenter infuriated opponents with his temper. He rallied teammates well aware that he pitched with varying degrees of numbness in his right forearm and hand for much of his last seven seasons.

Between injuries, Carpenter won 95 regular-season games for the Cardinals, an additional 10 in the postseason, secured the 2005 National League Cy Young Award and narrowly missed winning a second in 2009. He built a .683 winning percentage in nine seasons with a franchise that signed him for the major-league minimum when the Toronto Blue Jays removed him from their roster following the 2002 season.

Carpenter arrived as a low-hanging injury risk. He’ll leave having helped define an unforgettable era within the Cardinals’ enviable history.

The Cardinals soared with Carpenter and typically labored without him, reaching the postseason five times (and the World Series thrice) when he provided at least 180 regular-season innings. They missed the playoffs in two of the three seasons that Carpenter managed just seven starts total.

Of Carpenter’s 10 postseason wins, five were clinchers. He pushed the wild card Cardinals into the 2011 postseason by beating the Houston Astros on the season’s final day, outdueled Roy Halladay in an epic 1-0 Game 5 win against the Philadelphia Phillies and beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series pitching on short rest.

Carpenter’s classic against Halladay came only days after accepting an injection to his right elbow.

Outwardly optimistic about his return two weeks ago, Carpenter experienced a renewal of telltale symptoms when he increased his exertion. Persistent pain has accompanied numbness. Bruising has discolored his right hand.

Carpenter long insisted he’d stop pitching if it compromised his ability to lift his children. That day is here. A pitching badass that sometimes profanely exuded his will may now be forgiven his fear.

It’s been a year since Carpenter arrived in spring training on a modified throw program. It’s been about 50 weeks since, unable to lift his arm into proper position during a side session, he screamed from a mound in frustration.

More than six months have elapsed since Carpenter traveled to Dallas for surgery that supposedly would make him better.

It’s been a day since Mozeliak and Matheny arrived at the park in suits. It still doesn’t seem right.

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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