(BaseballSTL) -- Chris Carpenter, one of the best clutch pitchers in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, may have thrown his final pitch.
General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny announced Tuesday that Carpenter almost certainly won’t pitch in 2013 and that his star-crossed career is probably over after a recurrence of a nerve injury that cost him most of last season. Carpenter did not attend, and Mozeliak said the emotions for the 37-year-old still too raw.
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Carpenter will be given every opportunity to seek medical help at Mercy Hospital, but doubted a return will happen.
“Our hope is that we can find if there is any resolution to this, but at this time I doubt it’s going to happen,” Mozeliak said. “He’s leaving the door slightly open, but it’s unlikely.”
Carpenter’s career numbers don’t reflect his value to the team. He is 144-94 with a 3.76 ERA in a career that began in Toronto in 1997. He spent six seasons with the Blue Jays and nine in St. Louis. He won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, and was second in 2009 after going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA.
More telling are his postseason results, including a 10-4 record and 3.00 ERA in 18 starts. There were the eight innings of three-hit shutout baseball in a Game 3 World Series win over Detroit in 2006, a series the Cardinals won in five games; a 1-0 shutout to beat Roy Halladay in Philadelphia in the deciding game of the 2011 NL division series; and the gutty Game 7 World Series-clinching win over Texas on three days’ rest in 2011.
His career is all the more remarkable considering the amount of time he spent on the disabled list due to various shoulder, elbow and nerve injuries. He missed most of 2002, all of 2003, most of 2007 and 2008, and then last year’s season that was limited to three regular-season starts.
Carpenter phoned Mozeliak on Friday and told him that after trying to throw off a mound, the nerve injury was back, this time including numbness in his right arm, even bruising on his shoulder and hand.
Carpenter was shut down in Spring Training last year after experiencing weakness and numbness in his shoulder, neck and arm. Carpenter rested for three months and tried to return to the mound, but he did not progress and ended up visiting a specialist in Dallas.
That specialist recommended surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve condition that led to weakness in several parts of his body.
The 37-year-old right-hander underwent surgery last July to relieve the nerve compression. He made his first start of the season in September, and pitched two more games down the stretch and three in the postseason, but never regained his prior healthy form.
Mozeliak described Carpenter as being “sad” when he received the call from his pitcher last Friday.
“He was definitely teary-eyed and I think he felt like, to some degree, he was letting us down. I assured him that was further from the truth and that we were grateful for everything he has done for this organization,” Mozeliak said.
Through his discussions with Mozeliak and Matheny, Carpenter wants to make sure the neck, shoulder and arm pain will not limit him from having a normal life after his baseball career.
The loss of Carpenter leaves an open spot in the rotation, but the Cardinals believe the depth within the organization will be able to overcome the loss. The team will likely not seek help through free agency.
“As Mike Matheny and I have discussed, there is going to be some opportunities for some younger pitchers to contribute,” Mozeliak said. “I think right now we are comfortable with what we have. Obviously this is news to us. Right now, Mike (Matheny) and I feel pretty good about the arms we have coming to camp.”
With Carpenter’s status uncertain after last season, Matheny told several pitchers to come into this season ready to be a starter.
Among the candidates to join the starting rotation will be Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal.
“As we head into spring now there’s certainly a void there, but there’s also an opportunity,” Matheny said. “We have to have some other guys step up.”
The stunning news spread quickly. Third baseman David Freese tweeted: “Carp. 1 of the best teammates around. Heck of a competitor, impeccable leader. Passion for the game & to win, cant top. (hash)ace.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a better competitor than Chris, and also leader,” said Matheny, a former catcher and teammate of Carpenter’s before his current role as manager.
“When he was healthy he was one of the best,” Mozeliak said. “He was blessed with talent but he also worked extremely hard. When I think back over the last 10 to 15 years here in St. Louis he was one of those guys who just helped create the model of success. He left nothing to chance.”
Carpenter’s contract calls for a $12.5 million salary this year, of which $2 million is deferred without interest and is to be paid in $200,000 installments each July 1 from 2017-26.
As recently as the Cardinals’ annual fan gathering in mid-January, Carpenter was saying he was healthy and eager to pitch in 2013. Mozeliak said Carpenter tried throwing from a mound perhaps three times before calling him, emotionally saying he didn’t think he could pitch.
“He felt to some degree he was letting us down,” Mozeliak said. “I assured him nothing was further from the truth.”
Still, Matheny called the news “a kick in the gut” and the Cardinals have been through this before, too. Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery after hurting his elbow in 2011 and missed the entire season.
He declined to speculate on whether the team would consider re-signing Kyle Lohse, who was 16-3 with a 2.86 in 211 innings for St. Louis last season but remains unsigned as a free agent.
The Cardinals also have uncertainty about left-hander Jaime Garcia, who was 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA last season but was limited to just 20 starts due to shoulder fatigue. He was lost for the rest of the postseason after injuring his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.