The Cardinals’ decision to start Chris Carpenter in Game 3 Wednesday shouldn’t seem odd. After all, Carpenter has won numerous big games for St. Louis during his career, including Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.
For all of his playoff experience, though, the matinee at Nationals Park will offer a different test for the 37-year-old, as it will only be Carpenter’s fourth game this year.
Carpenter has thrown only 17 innings in 2012 after undergoing surgery to repair nerve damage in his shoulder and, quite honestly, few expected him to pitch at all this season let alone in the playoffs. In fact, when Carpenter had the surgery in July, the Cardinals said he was likely done for the year.
But Carpenter pushed himself through an aggressive rehab, sometimes disobeying the prescribed timeline for recovery, with the goal of helping St. Louis in October. Now he’ll get his chance, even though wild-card winner Kyle Loshe, who will start Game 4 Thursday, would have been on normal rest for Wednesday.
“It really comes down to wanting to get Carp on the mound and trying to figure out where it fits best,” Manager Mike Matheny said when asked why he opted to go with Carpenter over Loshe in Game 3. “Didn’t want to drag it on too far out, realizing what he brings, and his experience; what he brings with the success he’s had in the postseason and in his career in general.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cardinals are 12-3 in Carpenter’s postseason starts, which is the best team winning percentage for a starter in MLB history (with a minimum of 10 starts). Whether Carpenter will be the same pitcher for St. Louis this October is what everyone will be waiting to find out.
Carpenter’s 17 regular-season innings came over three starts: Sept. 21 at the Cubs, Sept. 26 at Houston and Oct. 2 vs. Cincinnati. He lasted no more than six innings in each appearance, but with each outing Carpenter felt more confident.
“Each time out, my stuff got sharper. My velocity went up. My command got better and my endurance got better,” Carpenter said. “The game in Cincinnati [Oct. 2] , the first three or so innings, I felt like my old self, and then I started battling a little bit mechanically and physically, but I’m excited about the way I feel. I’m excited to have this opportunity.”
At the same time, while he’s enthusiastic to be pitching in the postseason, Carpenter admitted he’d rather be doing so with six months of work already on his arm.
“To be honest with you, I’d much rather have all the innings than not the innings, because you know what you’re going to get,” Carpenter said. “You know, that’s not too many innings to work the kinks out in live games. But I’m confident in my stuff.”