Specialist recommends Carpenter have surgery for compressed nerve

ST. LOUIS -- A specialist recommended injured Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter undergo surgery for a compressed nerve in his shoulder, a procedure the team believes could have their ace back by spring training.

St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak on Tuesday described a "simple surgery" that could return the right-hander to activities in six weeks with an overall recovery time of about three months. Mozeliak said the injury is related to nerve damage that knocked Carpenter out for the 2004 postseason.

The Cardinals believe the diagnosis to be good news, and Mozeliak said the doctor, a thoracic specialist, believes "there's a reasonable chance for him to be fine."

"This is a situation that's reared its head again, and if it can be solved I think that's good news for him," Mozeliak said. "Based on how he was throwing the ball before this happened, I would be willing to bet he'll be someone who can really contribute to this club in a strong way."

Mozeliak said doctors believe the injury "appears to be coming from the same nerve."

The 33-year-old also had two MRI exams on Friday and is set to visit another specialist, also in St. Louis, on Wednesday. If the specialists are in agreement, Mozeliak said surgery likely would be expedited, although Carpenter said there's a chance more doctors would be asked to weigh in on the injury.

"The doctor I talked to today has done it before and it seems simple, but when you've had it going on six of them, after a while it gets old," Carpenter said. "We'll put everything together, everybody's opinions together.

"The question is, is that a step I want to take?"

Carpenter strongly disagreed with a report that the injury was career-threatening.

"This nerve issue is old and obviously I've pitched well with this before, so we just need to correct what's going on now," Carpenter said. "I believe I'll be back and I'll be fine."

Manager Tony La Russa said it was natural to be optimistic, but was more cautious.

"You're talking about a guy whose throwing arm is his life, and he's critical to our chances next year," La Russa said. "There's nothing we're taking for granted or playing it down. We just want to be realistic."

Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young winner, was shut down for the rest of the season on Sept. 12 due to what the team then described as persistent weakness from a muscle strain in the shoulder. He last pitched in relief at Arizona on Sept. 2, working an inning of relief.

Carpenter was the NL comeback player of the year in 2004 after missing the previous season and much of the 2002 season recovering from shoulder surgery. He was 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA that year before being sidelined in mid-September, and the Cardinals minus their ace were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Carpenter won 21 games in his '05 Cy Young season and was 15-8 in 2006, but has made only four starts and one relief appearance the last two seasons. He started on opening day in 2007 before being sidelined by an elbow injury that eventually required surgery in July.

The right-hander was one of three rehabbing pitchers who didn't pan out this season for the Cardinals. Mark Mulder pitched 1 2/3 innings before reinjuring his shoulder and free agent pickup Matt Clement, also coming off shoulder surgery, was released in August.