Chris Carpenter stepping up recovery

ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter is set to make his first minor league rehabilitation start next week, an outing that once seemed very much in doubt for the former Cardinals ace.

Carpenter pitched a three-inning simulated game on Wednesday. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Carpenter will start Monday for Double-A Springfield.

"My stuff is good," Carpenter said. "Again, the timing and stuff to make consistent quality pitches down in the strike zone still has a little ways to go. But my stuff was there and I felt good and that's key, so I was excited about it."

Matheny said Carpenter will be limited to a pitch count in the "60s-range" in his first live action since making three starts during the playoffs last year. Nerve issues have sidelined the 38-year-old right-hander since before the start of spring training this season, and it appeared his career might be in jeopardy.

The former NL Cy Young winner has made mostly steady progress during the past two months in his comeback attempt. On Wednesday, he faced teammates Shane Robinson, Pete Kozma and Rob Johnson in the simulated game.

Matheny said unless Carpenter shows negative effects from his latest effort, there's no reason not to start the clock on his rehab.

"He proved I think everything we needed him to prove," Matheny said.

Carpenter gets one month before a decision must be made about if he'll play in the majors this season. He said that hasn't truly crossed his mind.

"I have to go down there and get better and prove that I can stay healthy and prove I'm good enough to get in and take one of these guys' spots," Carpenter said. "Just because of what I've done in the past doesn't mean I get an opportunity to step in and kick someone out of here when we're doing so well."

The Cardinals lead the NL Central. Carpenter won Game 7 of the 2011 World Series against Texas.

"Right now, I'm preparing as a starter," he said. "That's not up to me, that's up to them. I'm going to prepare to show them I can pitch and then let them make that decision, if, where and when I'm needed."