Chris Carpenter is unlikely to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals this season and his career may be over because of a nerve injury that kept him out most of last year.
Carpenter has renewed numbness and some bruising in his right shoulder and hand after throwing off a mound prior to spring training, general manager John Mozeliak said Tuesday. He will get an additional medical evaluation and isn't officially retiring, but Mozeliak said the Cardinals are moving on without him.
"He's leaving the door slightly open, but it's unlikely," Mozeliak said of Carpenter's return. "After speaking with him on the phone you certainly get a sense that he's more concerned about life after baseball."
Manager Mike Matheny called the news "a kick in the gut."
Carpenter had surgery in July for a nerve injury that first occurred in spring training 2012. He returned to pitch three games in the regular season, going 1-2 down the stretch, and starting three games in the postseason. He beat Washington in the divisional series but was 0-2 in the NL Championship Series against eventual World Series winner San Francisco.
It marks the third straight season the Cardinals have lost a key member of the rotation prior to the start of the season. Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery after hurting his elbow in 2011 and missed the entire season.
Carpenter, 37, did not join Mozeliak and Matheny at the news conference. Mozeliak said the emotions are still too raw for him. Carpenter will seek additional medical evaluation at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, but Mozeliak said attention now turns to filling the void left by not only a top-of-the-rotation pitcher but an unquestioned clubhouse leader.
"There are a lot of young arms ready to contribute and now they're going to get that opportunity," Mozeliak said.
He declined to speculate on whether the team would pursue Kyle Lohse, who was 16-3 with a 2.86 in 211 innings for St. Louis last season but remains unsigned as a free agent.
Carpenter, who is 144-94 for his career and 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts, is considered one of the best clutch pitchers in Cardinals history. He pitched eight shutout innings to win Game 3 of the 2006 World Series against Detroit, a series St. Louis won in five games. And he was a postseason standout in the improbable 2011 World Series run, beating Roy Halladay 1-0 in a memorable Game 5 of the NL divisional series at Philadelphia, and beating Texas in Game 7 of the World Series.
"When he was healthy he was one of the best," Mozeliak said. "He was blessed with talent but he also worked extremely hard. When I think back over the last 10 to 15 years here in St. Louis he was one of those guys who just helped create the model of success. He left nothing to chance."
Matheny, a former catcher who was Carpenter's teammate and manager, agreed.
"I don't know if I've ever witnessed a better competitor than Chris, and also leader," Matheny said.
Carpenter's contract calls for a $12.5 million salary this year, of which $2 million is deferred without interest and is to be paid in $200,000 installments each July 1 from 2017-26.
As recently as the Cardinals' annual Winter Warmup in mid-January, Carpenter was saying he was healthy and eager to pitch in 2013. Mozeliak said Carpenter tried throwing from a mound perhaps three times before calling him on Friday, emotionally saying he didn't think he could pitch.
"He felt to some degree he was letting us down," Mozeliak said. "I assured him nothing was further from the truth."
Carpenter's career - six seasons in Toronto, nine in St. Louis - has been marred by various injuries to his shoulder, elbow, nerve. He missed most of 2002, all of 2003, most of 2007 and most of 2008, in addition to all but three starts in 2012.
The nerve injury last season seemed career-threatening and surgery included removing a rib. Carpenter made an improbable return that helped St. Louis squeeze into the playoffs with the final wild card spot. His velocity was down and stuff not as sharp, but he was hopeful for a full recovery by 2013.
The Cardinals also have uncertainty about left-hander Jaime Garcia, who was 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA last season but was limited to just 20 starts due to shoulder fatigue. He was lost for the rest of the postseason after injuring his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.
Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn are expected to be in the rotation. Younger pitchers Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller will compete for a spot.
"As we head into spring now there's certainly a void there, but there's also an opportunity," Matheny said. "We have to have some other guys step up."
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