(Jeff Roberson/AP)

But health issues have plagued the towering right-hander over the years, and after helping to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a 2011 World Series championship, the 36-year-old’s follow-up campaign is already off to a rocky start.

On Friday the Cardinals announced that Carpenter will miss his opening day start and will be sidelined indefinitely due to nerve irritation that caused weakness in his pitching shoulder. The team said this is not a new injury and that the cervical disc injury he sustained earlier this spring is now a “non-issue.” However, for a guy that missed the 2004 postseason and nearly all of 2008 with nerve issues in his shoulder, another injury to his pitching shoulder is a serious concern.

Carpenter’s durability was never a problem in 2011 when he led the National League in innings (237 1/3) and starts (34) and compiled an 11-9 record with a 3.45 ERA.

He was 4-0 in the postseason and won game 1 and the decisive game 7, pitching six strong innings in the latter while allowing only two runs.

With Adam Wainwright back from Tommy John Surgery — and looking sharp in five shutout innings on Friday — the blow to the Cardinals’ starting staff might not be as severe. But as St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz writes, in recent years, Carpenter’s production has been a strong indicator of success for the Redbirds. With Carpenter on the shelf in 2007 and 2008, St. Louis missed the playoffs. He made at least 28 starts in each of his other six seasons with the team, and the Cardinals made the playoffs five times. And since 2004, the team has a .639 winning percentage in Carpenter’s starts compared to a .540 percentage in games started by any other pitcher.

Carpenter is the Cardinals' X factor in 2012. The defending champs aren't the same with him stuck in the repair shop; it's just a question of how long it will take to fix him.

We all learned an important lesson late last summer about the foolishness of prematurely counting a team out. The 2011 Cardinals made a late-season comeback of historical proportions.

Then again, that team had Pujols, Carpenter, La Russa and Duncan.

Kyle Lohse, who led the Cardinals in wins (14) and ERA (3.39) last season, will take Carpenter’s place on opening day.