Cardinals major league notebook: 03/21/12

Carpenter returned to St. Louis for tests

Chris Carpenter remains the most concerning of the St. Louis Cardinals injuries in spring training.

INSIDE PITCH

 

Chris Carpenter won't be ready for the start of the season due to a neck injury, manager Mike Matheny announced March 21.

The right-hander was due to have his neck re-examined in St. Louis after experiencing symptoms again.

Carpenter threw 40 pitches in a batting practice session March 18. He is dealing with a bulging cervical disk, and he experienced weakness in his neck, shoulder and upper arm March 19, according to multiple media reports. The pitcher returned to St. Louis on March 20.

There is no timetable for Carpenter's return.

"Things weren't just quite right," general manager John Mozeliak told MLB.com. "I would use the term weakness. For precautionary reasons, we just think it's time to take a timeout, have him evaluated. We're trying to determine if it's the neck, the shoulder and what's causing the weakness. We don't know the answer to that yet."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the injury appears similar to the nerve-related condition that ended the 2005 Cy Young Award winner's season in 2004 and 2008 and resurfaced in 2010.

Matheny announced that Kyle Lohse would draw the Opening Day assignment April 4 against the Marlins in Miami. Lance Lynn will move from the bullpen to become the fifth starter in Carpenter's absence.

NOTES, QUOTES

Mike Matheny had just answered a reporter's question about the challenges of being a first-year manager when an unexpected situation presented itself.

The visiting Cardinals were under the impression that the National Leagues team could continue using a designated hitter in all exhibition games through March 21. Yet nearly an hour after they had arrived at Disney's Wide World of Sports, the Cardinals were informed that the host Atlanta Braves wanted the pitchers to bat in the March 19 Grapefruit League game.

Matheny found out that news from the Cardinals' media relations director just as his team was starting batting practice. Thus, he had to make some alterations to his lineup card before the Cardinals went on to a 4-3 victory.

"I better find Lance and tell him to grab a bat," Matheny said, referring to starting pitcher Lance Lynn.

There was no hint of Matheny being upset about being forced into changing his team's plans. He was calm and collected, and that is exactly how he intends to stay as replaces the legendary Tony La Russa as manager one season after the Cardinals won the World Series.

"Every day, something new presents itself," Matheny said. "Every day brings a different challenge. From that standpoint, though, it hasn't been a surprise. I talked to a lot of people who have done this job for a long time, and they said that the one thing about being a manager is that once you think you've seen or handled every situation, something new comes along. There are going to be challenges every day in this job."

Matheny's challenges are seemingly larger than those of most first-year managers. After all, he is replacing the third-winningest manager in baseball history and taking over a team that has nowhere to go but down after winning it all last season.

Furthermore, Matheny is managing professionally for the first time on any level.

Matheny's 13-year playing career as a catcher ended with San Francisco in 2006 because of post-concussion syndrome. He then spent time as a businessman before joining the Cardinals' player-development department in 2010 as a special assistant.

Yet the Cardinals believe Matheny is ready for the task. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak had a host of attractive candidates to pick from after La Russa decided to retire two days after the World Series, including former Boston manager Terry Francona, who has two World Series titles on his resume. Instead, Mozeliak hired Matheny.

"It was really an easy decision," Mozeliak said. "Mike just has a presence about him and such a great understanding of the game. He's a very impressive guy."

Matheny admits he is a "drab" interview and speaks in a lot of cliches. However, Matheny also makes the point that "cliches are cliches for a reason, and that's because they are basic truths of the game. I believe that if you do the things the right way then you'll have success."

Which is why Matheny seems to be the only person who doesn't think being the Cardinals' new manager is a big deal.

"It's all in your perspective," Matheny said. "I don't make more out of what I'm doing than there is because it would be a disadvantage to (the players). I look at this is an opportunity to fill a position that was available with this team and a chance to keep the momentum going that this organization has already established."

Matheny might have a matter-of-fact tone when talking about his new job, but he also realizes how fortunate he is to step into his current situation. More often than not, teams in trouble are the ones looking for new managers rather than defending World Series champions.

"We have great veteran leadership," Matheny said. "We have a great group of players who go about their business the right way day after day. As a manager, that's the kind of players and team you want to manage. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation."

OF Allen Craig appeared to be coming along more quickly than expected after offseason knee surgery. Craig began taking batting practice on March 15 and had been doing straight-line running before that. He planned to run bases in the next week or so after that and hoped to play in an exhibition game before the end of camp. Barring a setback, Craig, one of the Cardinals' playoff heroes last year, figured to be ready before the May 1 estimate that had been offered.

In all likelihood, LF Matt Holliday will fill the No. 3 spot in the batting order where former 1B Albert Pujols hit for the past 10 years. Holliday, who had batted third in Colorado, got off to a .462 start after the first 11 exhibition games.

Veteran RH reliever Scott Linebrink, who was with Atlanta last year, made an early impression with three scoreless innings. RHP Mitchell Boggs, who was the closer for a time last year, was working with a split-fingered pitch and the sink on his fastball was better when he didn't try to throw it so hard.

The Cardinals, who swiped a league low 57 bases last year, stole 10 in their first 11 attempts this spring although manager Mike Matheny noted that many of the steals were by young players who hadn't been regular players last year. Matheny said, however, he wanted to see those same players be aggressive in the spring games. 2B Tyler Greene has been one of the most active on the basepaths. As a reserve who played only less half the season with the major league club last year, Greene led the world champions with 11 steals in 11 attempts.

3B David Freese, after a slow start, hit home runs in back-to-back games. Against left-handed pitching, he was batting fourth behind Holliday and ahead of 1B Lance Berkman, when the latter was in the lineup. The World Series Most Valuable Player hit mostly fifth and sixth last season.

2B/OF Skip Schumaker suffered a strained right oblique in swinging at a pitch on March 16. It was similar to the injury he suffered in last year's postseason that cost him an entire series, only Schumaker said the pain was worse this time.

BY THE NUMBERS: 36 - Number of years since a National League team repeated a World Series title. Cincinnati won in 1975-76.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not good."

- 2B/OF Skip Schumaker's reaction to the oblique injury he suffered on March 16.

 

ROSTER REPORT

 

Projected Rotation:

1. RHP Kyle Lohse

2. LHP Jaime Garcia

3. RHP Jake Westbrook

4. RHP Adam Wainwright

5. RHP Lance Lynn

The return of Wainwright, a year removed from elbow surgery, should make a good rotation even stronger. Garcia, who has won in double figures twice in his first two full seasons, might be ready for a breakthrough year if he can avoid being distracted during games. Lynn takes the rotation spot of RHP Chris Carpenter (neck)

Projected Bullpen (pick seven):

RHP Jason Motte (closer)

RHP Fernando Salas

RHP Lance Lynn

RHP Kyle McClellan

RHP Eduardo Sanchez

LHP Marc Rzepczynski

LHP J.C. Romero

RHP Mitchell Boggs

 

Motte, a late-season success as a closer, will be the Cardinals' ninth inning man at the start of the season. Salas, who had 24 saves last year, will be a reliable setup man but the club is hoping to find another veteran to help in late innings.

 

Rzepczynski is a versatile left-hander who can also retire right-handed hitters and doesn't have to be employed only in situational roles.

 
Projected Lineup:

1. SS Rafael Furcal

2. RF Carlos Beltran

3. LF Matt Holliday

4. 1B Lance Berkman

5. 3B David Freese

6. CF Jon Jay

7. C Yadier Molina

8. 2B Daniel Descalso

 

Newcomer Beltran could hit second, third or fifth, although new manager Mike Matheny seems inclined to have Holliday bat third. When OF-1B Allen Craig (knee surgery) returns in early May, if not before, Beltran could move to center field against left-handed pitching.

 
Top Rookies:

RHP Shelby Miller may be on the fast track to the majors. The 21-year-old Miller, who throws in the mid-90s, was a combined 11-6 at Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield last year. He is fewer than three years removed from being the club's top pick in the 2009 draft. Also to be watched is 24-year-old Erik Komatsu, a Rule 5 pick from Washington. Komatsu, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, hit a combined .277 in the Milwaukee and Washington systems last year.

Medical Watch:

RHP Chris Carpenter (stiff neck) experienced neck, shoulder and upper arm problems after a March 18 throwing session. He won't be ready for the start of the season, and the timetable for his return was unknown.

OF Allen Craig (right knee surgery in November 2011) may open the season on the disabled list.

2B/OF Skip Schumaker is expected to open the season on the disabled list (oblique injury).

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