Chris Carpenter feeling stronger

JUPITER, Fla. -- Chris Carpenter noticed a crowd was steadily building behind the chain-link fence. Seems word had spread the St. Louis Cardinals' ace was doing some throwing.

These days, even playing a few minutes of catch is a big deal.

"Amazing, isn't it? Did I do OK?" Carpenter asked afterward.

The reigning World Series champions certainly hope Carpenter did, since their rotation to open the season may depend on how he feels over the next few days.

If Carpeter prove not ready for the start of the season, his replacement seems up to the task.
Lance Lynn's three scoreless innings against Houston on Wednesday reassured St. Louis manager Mike Matheny that the 24-year-old is the right choice to temporarily replace Carpenter should the veteran prove not ready for the start of the season.

Termed "Plan B" earlier in the week by Matheny, Lynn retired the final eight batters he faced in his first spring start, which the Cardinals lost 4-3 to Houston.

"I wanted to go back out, but I already had 40 pitches," said Lynn, whose fastball hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.

But Carpenter's few minutes of catch with teammate Jake Westbrook on Wednesday might be considered a positive sign for the Cardinals, who have dealt with a flurry of injuries in camp -- the status of the guy who won Game 7 of last year's World Series most prominent among them.

Carpenter took a spot in left field, alternating throws from between roughly 60 and 90 feet with Westbrook off the flat grass.

No one, including Carpenter, can say for certain what the next step in his recovery from a sore neck caused by a bulging disc will be, and the April 4 season-opener at the Miami Marlins is looming fast.

"You're always frustrated if you can't play," Carpenter said after the throws. "I want to play, and I haven't been able to yet this spring. That's not what you're looking for, coming to spring training and not being able to get ready for the season. So there's always frustration. But you deal with it and move on and get ready to go."

Carpenter dealt with neck soreness last week, and was scratched from his first scheduled start of the spring on Monday because of the issue. The sense entering spring training was that the Cardinals would begin the 2012 season the same way they ended 2011, with Carpenter as the starting pitcher on the lineup card.

He turns 37 next month and threw 273 1/3 innings during last year's regular season and playoffs, the most in baseball since Curt Schilling pitched 305 and Randy Johnson pitched 291 as the teammates who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to the 2001 World Series title. Carpenter was 11-9 in the regular season, then 4-0 in the playoffs, winning deciding games against Philadelphia in the division series and Texas in the World Series.

So it was little surprise that the Cardinals took a cautious approach with Carpenter entering spring.

"That's just kind of how this game operates," Matheny said. "Especially when you've got players who have been around a while. ... This team played 30 days longer than a lot of other teams (last season) and to discount that I think's a mistake. Trying to push these guys through something right now still doesn't make sense to me. They're going to be ready when the bell rings."

Matheny's words don't just apply to Carpenter, either.

He said first baseman Lance Berkman tried to talk his way into Wednesday's lineup against the Houston Astros, but Matheny felt resting an achy left knee until Friday is the smarter call. Outfielder Carlos Beltran also got a day of rest Wednesday after making his in-the-field debut Tuesday against the Mets -- "he felt great," Matheny said -- and is expected to travel across the state with the Cardinals to Fort Myers for a game Thursday against Boston. Shortstop Rafael Furcal has been dealing with neck soreness in recent days as well, though was in Wednesday's lineup.

"We've had quite a few of these guys wanting to push through something and that just shows their character," Matheny said. "And I'll take the bullet for them and say, `Hey, it just makes more sense to sit right now.' It was another example today. Lance really wanted to play. To give him another day isn't going to hurt him."

Carpenter clearly is getting antsy to start getting ready.

He says he's been able to stay in shape through running and weightlifting, though his workouts have been a bit tempered of late because of the neck issue. Carpenter said he felt good Tuesday and that the plan was hatched for him to play catch if he showed up for work Wednesday without any setbacks.

Carpenter spent about an hour at his locker before the workout, chatting with Westbrook and Kyle Lohse. His only complaint was about the slow download speed on his phone, and the Cardinals would gladly take that problem over anything else.

"I'm going to continue to go in the right direction," Carpenter said. "We'll move forward and see what happens."