If the fans in Memphis were disappointed with Chris Carpenter’s performance Saturday night, you couldn’t tell.
When the famed St. Louis Cardinals right-hander stepped from the field with his head hung low after his second rehab start, the crowd rose to its feet.
The 14,000 fans that turned out—considerably more than the Redbirds' average of 6,700—were just grateful for the opportunity to watch Carpenter pitch.
There were flashes of vintage Carpenter, including a gutsy 1-6-3 double play, but he didn’t have the dominant stuff we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing from him.
“It wasn’t what I was looking for tonight.”
That’s how Carpenter characterized his second rehab appearance since injuries tried to end his career.
Carpenter, known for his “bulldog” mentality, has been sidelined for the better part of two seasons by thoracic outlet syndrome, which eventually required a rather invasive operation to correct the issue.
Assuming he wouldn’t play until the start of 2013, Carpenter beat the odds and took the mound just in time for the 2012 postseason. Again, it wasn’t quite vintage Carpenter.
Now, with the Cardinals pushing toward the playoffs, Carpenter is once again grabbing headlines as he scratches and claws his way back to the big league mound.
Carpenter made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of being remembered as a guy who fizzled in the majors at the expense of his team.
“If I’m not gonna help them, I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself,” Carpenter said Saturday evening in Memphis. “I can tell you that right now.”
He wasn’t joking.
Carpenter appears to have a solid grasp on the reality of the mountain that still remains ahead of him. He spoke quite candidly about what he views is his responsibility to the team.
“I factored in how I felt and the commitment I made to this ballclub, the commitment I made to myself,” he said. “I still have one year on the contract and I wasn’t getting ready for spring training thinking I wasn’t going to pitch. When I was cleared to give it a go, I was gonna give it a go. Now we’ll see what happens.”
So far, not a lot has happened, but it needs to be kept in perspective.
For the majority of two seasons, Carpenter has pitched very little. This rehab assignment is basically spring training for him, and frankly, I would consider him to be in the early stages still (maybe the first week of March).
With that said, his next start, presumably Thursday in Memphis, will need to show some improvement for a couple of reasons.
The timing in relation to the trade deadline would make any improvement very welcomed by the Cardinals. While they may not be depending on Carpenter as the X-factor in a trade decision, knowing that he is or is not going to be available would be useful information.
The other reason he needs to see improvement is because his patience with himself appears to be wearing thin. He was cordial when answering questions but obviously felt that he was not progressing like he should be.
“If I have the ability to make an impact on the club, I will,” Carpenter said. “If I don’t, I won’t.”
When asked whether the minor league fanfare had affected his warm-ups or concentration, he was quick to brush aside any excuses.
He could have blamed it on the helicopter that delivered the game ball as he was taking his warm-up tosses.
He could have blamed it on the K-9 dog that was mauling a well-padded man in center field.
“That one concerned me a little bit when I was walking to the bullpen,” he joked.
In the end, he said he just didn’t have his best stuff. He makes no excuses.
Was it just a bad night? He hopes so.
“You hope that this was a night that you just weren’t sharp because I haven’t been out there very often—that it will get better,” he said. “That’s what I was hoping the last time, too, and it didn’t change [Saturday].”
The worst-case scenario would be that he finds out it’s time to hang up his cleats for the last time.
While I understand his frustration, I think he’s being overly hard on himself. As long as he can keep in perspective that rehab is a process and push on, I still think we may see him on a big league mound before the season ends.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.