By Derrick Goold
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)
---- — JUPITER, Fla. —St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Trevor Rosenthal spent the winter in St. Louis so that he could work out alongside Chris Carpenter, and as recently as last week the rookie watched the club’s veteran ace throw at Busch Stadium.
He didn’t sense anything was wrong.
Of course, it wasn’t really Carpenter’s style to ever let on when it was.
Rosenthal was one of several members of the club at its spring training facility who expressed surprise Tuesday when the Cardinals announced that Carpenter, a former Cy Young Award winner, is not expected to pitch in 2013 because of recurring issues with his right shoulder. General manager John Mozeliak described Carpenter’s return to the mound at all as “unlikely.”
“It’s a shock,” Rosenthal said as he left the club’s complex at Roger Dean Stadium. “He’s a tough guy. He never complained about anything. … He looked good. Everyone knows what he means to this team.”
What it means for the team is that Rosenthal and three other young pitchers are in a competition for, suddenly, one more opening in the rotation. The Cardinals planned to enter spring training with four pitchers – Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and the incumbent, Lance Lynn – vying for one spot in the rotation. Carpenter’s absence means the four pitchers will audition for two spots in the five-man rotation.
This might seem familiar. A year ago, Carpenter experienced numbness and irritation as a result of nerve damage in his right shoulder. The same symptoms wouldn’t relent last week and led to Tuesday’s announcement. A year ago, Lynn emerged as Carpenter’s replacement and won 18 games and an All-Star Game invitation.
“We have seen this because we went through a lot of last year without Carp,” pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. “There are a whole lot of tremendous accolades that I can (give) Carp and what he means. I also know that the guys can step up. We saw that. We just need to figure out which direction we’re going to go with it.”
The Cardinals’ front office, manager Mike Matheny, and his coaches are all expected to converge on Jupiter by Sunday with the organization’s pre-spring meeting scheduled for Monday. Mozeliak said at that time the club will discuss its options for the rotation. The Cardinals expressed confidence Tuesday in their in-house options. Kyle Lohse, the team’s most reliable starter in 2012, remains unsigned as a free agent. The compensatory draft pick that is tied to signing him has had a chilling effect on the market for Lohse. The Cardinals are the only team that could sign Lohse without losing a draft pick.
Mozeliak said later Tuesday that the Cardinals “are comfortable with who we have.”
That includes Adam Wainwright, who will start 2013 two years removed from elbow surgery. As a young pitcher, Wainwright mimicked Carpenter, right down to how the Cy Young Award-winner stood on the mound when getting the sign from the catcher. Wainwright, entering his eighth season with the Cardinals, is widely viewed within the organization as Carpenter’s successor, the next in line to set the tone for the rotation.
Several seasons ago, Carpenter followed the practices he learned from Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams and others to organize what he called “a team within a team.” He felt it was important that the five starters work closely. He encouraged them to attend each other’s bullpen sessions, and he had them meet at the start of the season to exchange and discuss goals. His influence didn’t stop when he stepped off the rubber. It was Carpenter who, during the team meeting that is often painted as the turning point late in the 2011 season, said that the team would embarrass itself if it continued to underachieve.
That team rallied from 101/2 games back in the standings to win the World Series.
Reaction to Tuesday’s announcement spread beyond the news conference at Busch Stadium and the fields at Roger Dean Stadium, through social media and the National League Central.
“It’s tough for the Cardinals, but I’m sure they will bounce back,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com. As the Cardinals’ general manager, Jocketty signed Carpenter before the 2003 season. “You hate to see this end Chris’ career, if that is what has happened. He was one of my favorite players.”
On Twitter, teammates referred to Carpenter by his jersey number, 29.
“Gonna miss 29 on the mound this year,” closer Jason Motte wrote. “What a competitor, teammate, leader, and friend most of all.”
Mozeliak described Carpenter’s role for the coming season as a mentor. In a way, he’s already started. Carpenter offered young pitchers the chance to spend the winter in St. Louis working out with him, to prepare as he prepares for spring training. Rosenthal responded to the invitation by relocating to St. Louis for the offseason.
He saw what may be some of Carpenter’s last pitches.
But that’s not the last he expects to see of Carpenter.
“We’ll have a lot of guys who can step up. You know you’re going to get that from Wainwright and (Jake) Westbrook,” Rosenthal said. “When Carp’s around, he’s our team leader. He has been in the past. I think he’ll continue to do that regardless of what his role is, whether he’s on the field or not.”