Carpenter was 4-0 in the postseason last fall but hasn't pitched since winning Game 7 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers . He returns less than two months after undergoing surgery to relieve a nerve ailment that caused numbness up and down the right side of his body.
"I worked my butt off to try to get back," Carpenter said. "And it worked out."
The 37-year-old Carpenter, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2005, will make his first start of the season Friday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The former 20-game winner points out he's no stranger to late-season pressure, so he doesn't mind the idea of parachuting into the intensity of a stretch run.
Health permitting, he could get three key starts before the regular season ends.
"I've pitched in games that matter," Carpenter said. "So I'm going out there with the same focus, the same program. Hopefully, I can help give us maybe a little push, and we can get on a little run."
St. Louis (80-70) has been solid on the mound but displays a mostly spotty offense. The team features five hitters with 20 or more homers - a franchise first - but the Cardinals will score eight or nine runs one day and then seem lifeless for days. It's a frustrating scenario for rookie manager Mike Matheny , who said he doesn't have to remind his team it's time to get going.
"There's nothing that even needs to be said. It's plain as the nose on your face, what we've got left ahead of us and what we have to do," Matheny said. "It's not like there's a secret, there's a formula.
"We've got to push. We've got to play our best now."
The Cardinals are hoping Carpenter can bolster an already-strong rotation. Kyle Lohse (15-3, 2.71 ERA) is one of the National League's best starters, Lance Lynn (16-7, 3.79) appears to be back on track, Adam Wainwright (13-13, 3.97) has had a solid first year back from elbow reconstruction and Jake Westbrook (13-11, 3.97) has had dominant stretches.
Plans going forward will depend on how Carpenter holds up against the Cubs (58-92). There will always be room for him, though. He is 95-42 since 2004, a .693 winning percentage that's the best in the majors during that stretch.
"Obviously, Carp's one of our leaders and an outstanding pitcher," slugger Matt Holliday said. "If he's 80-90 percent of what he usually is, we'll be in good shape."
Heading into surgery in late July, Carpenter had been hopeful of returning next season to fulfill the final year of a two-year contract. Not long after the procedure in Dallas, the right-hander began aiming for a more immediate comeback.
"As we got going and saw that my arm strength was coming back, everything was coming back and I felt good, and there was no risk of hurting anything up there, we said 'Why not try it? See if we can get back here in time.'
"Fortunately it worked out."
Carpenter threw 95 pitches in a second simulated game, and hopes to be able to pitch deep into his debut. Equally important, he recovered nicely.
"I know it's a simulated but it's still 95 throws and I felt good, felt strong, felt strong at the end and I recovered well," Carpenter said.
Carpenter began traveling with the team a few trips back, helping him regain his footing as a leader in the clubhouse.
"I still speak my mind and say what needs to be said," Carpenter said. "It's hard to voice your opinion and say things when you're not around them all the time. I've been around these guys the last month or so all the time."
The Cubs appear to be a favorable opponent for Carpenter's debut. He's 11-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 25 career starts against them, and his win total is tied for first with three others for the most against Chicago since 2004.
Carpenter has also been dominant against the NL Central, going 51-23 with a 2.98 ERA.
The Cubs will counter with Chris Volstad (3-10, 6.26), who will try to help the team snap a four-game losing streak.
Chicago has won four of the right-hander's last five starts, but Volstad has struggled with his control during that stretch, walking 19 in 27 innings. He walked four while yielding six runs and a career high-tying 10 hits in 4 2-3 innings of Sunday's 13-9 victory over Pittsburgh. Volstad had won three of his previous four outings following a 24-start winless stretch.
He has lost both of his starts versus St. Louis this season, surrendering four runs and six hits in six innings each time.
The Cubs, losers of eight of 14 to St. Louis in 2012, will need to sweep this three-game set to avoid dropping the season series for the second straight year.
The Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of MLB-worst Houston and won their fourth straight with Thursday's 5-4 victory.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|September 11, 2012||Anthony Rizzo||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 07, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Bone contusion in right elbow|
|September 07, 2012||Brett Jackson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right knee|
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
CHICAGO (AP) -- It was all going so well for St. Louis. Chris Carpenter had a solid 2012 debut and Pete Kozma swiped home for the go-ahead run, putting the Cardinals in position to extend their timely winning streak.
Then it all fell apart in a hurry.
Darwin Barney connected for a tying two-run homer off Fernando Salas with two out in the ninth inning and David DeJesus hit a game-ending single in the 11th to lift the Chicago Cubs to a 5-4 victory on Friday.
DeJesus came to the plate with two out and lined an 0-2 pitch from Joe Kelly (5-6) into right field to score pinch-runner Brett Jackson .
Alberto Cabrera (1-1) struck out two in a perfect 11th to earn his first career victory.
The Cardinals had won four in a row and entered Friday with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the second NL wild card.
"We got to a two-run lead with two strikes in the ninth, but wouldn't finish it off," manager Mike Matheny said.
Carpenter threw five effective innings and was in line for the win until Barney drove a 1-2 pitch from Salas into the left-field bleachers. Salas allowed a single to DeJesus with two outs and nobody on after getting two strikes on him, too.
"I made the pitches I wanted to make," Salas said. "It was a fastball in to DeJesus and a soft hit and then Barney was bad luck. He made good contact."
The Cardinals' regular closer, Jason Motte , was unavailable after pitching three days in a row and four out of the last five.
"He's been very, very good for us lately and he's been in that situation before so it's a good fit," Matheny said of Salas. "You can look at a pitch now and say it should have been somewhere else, but it's easy to do now."
Carpenter threw 77 pitches, with a light rain falling throughout the game. The 37-year-old allowed two runs and five hits, struck out two and walked one.
"My stuff wasn't as sharp as I'd like and it wasn't as sharp as it's been in the simulated games," Carpenter said. "But I tried to get as many outs as I could and give us a chance. It was fun to get back out there. Hopefully my stuff will get better and sharper as I get out there more often."
Carpenter went 4-0 in the 2011 postseason, but hadn't pitched since winning Game 7 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers . He had surgery July 19 to relieve a nerve ailment that caused numbness up and down the right side of his body.
"It was good to have him back out there and obviously he did exactly what we thought he'd do," Matheny said. "He competed and made some good pitches and gave us a chance to win."
Adding his experienced arm to the rotation boosts the Cardinals' playoff push. The Brewers open a weekend series Friday night against the Washington Nationals , who clinched a playoff berth Thursday.
Carpenter held Chicago scoreless through the first two innings, allowing three baserunners, but the Cubs jumped on him in a two-run third inning.
DeJesus led off the third with a triple and Barney followed with an RBI single. Two batters later, Alfonso Soriano doubled to the left-field corner to tie it at 2.
St. Louis regained the lead in the fourth on a botched suicide squeeze play. Kozma led off with a triple, and was credited with stealing home when catcher Welington Castillo was unable to handle a high-and-tight pitch that Daniel Descalso offered at but could not get down.
It was the Cardinals' first straight steal of home since Kerry Robinson in 2002.
Yadier Molina 's two-out single got St. Louis on the board in the first inning, and Allen Craig added a sacrifice fly in the third. Matt Holliday reached four times for the Cardinals.
Descalso tacked on an RBI double in the eighth, driving in Matt Carpenter .
Cubs starter Chris Volstad allowed three runs and six hits in five innings.
NOTES: Soriano now has 104 RBIs, matching his career high set in 2005 with Texas. ... The Cardinals outrighted RHP John Gaub to make room on the 40-man roster for Carpenter, who was activated from the 60-day disabled list prior to the game. ... St. Louis sends Adam Wainwright (13-13, 3.97 ERA) to the mound against Chicago's Travis Wood (6-12, 4.25) in a Saturday matinee.