Saturday, May 5, 2007 Updated: May 6, 5:14 PM ET
Cardinals starter Carpenter to undergo elbow surgery
ST. LOUIS -- Until a few days ago, Chris Carpenter had been eagerly anticipating his return to the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation. Now, the staff ace's next start might be in August.
The team announced Saturday that Carpenter, sidelined since his Opening Day start by an elbow injury, will undergo arthroscopic
surgery to trim bone spurs that have caused persistent swelling. He's expected to be out at least three months after the team's medical staff conceded that a rehab plan that called for rest followed by a gradual pitch buildup wasn't working.
"It got to a point where it's either do it or continue to battle this," Carpenter said after St. Louis' 13-0 loss to the Astros. "We need to get it taken care of so the rest of the season's not in jeopardy.
"Hopefully we can get it done and my recovery will be faster than everybody hopes, and I'll be back faster than everybody hopes."
Dr. George Paletta, the team physician and medical director, scheduled the surgery for Tuesday. Barring further setbacks, he anticipated that Carpenter would pitch again this season.
The plan calls for Carpenter to resume throwing six weeks after the operation, and Paletta estimated he'd need six weeks to get his arm in shape.
"Anytime we operate on the elbow there is risk," Paletta said. "I think the likelihood is very good but there are no guarantees. Absolutely not."
Carpenter was a 15-game winner last year and the NL Cy Young award winner in 2005. The loss is another blow to a team that won the World Series last fall but is now coping with the death of reliever Josh Hancock and a scuffling start that has landed them in last place in the NL Central.
The Cardinals have lost six of their last seven games, getting outscored 51-10 in the process, and their 11-17 record is the franchise's worst start since an identical record in 1990.
"Obviously, you can't replace a guy like that," infielder Aaron Miles said. "It's a tough loss and he's going to be missed big-time. We've just got to grind it out."
Brad Thompson, a middle reliever with the Cardinals who made 15 minor league starts in 2004 and got one spot start with St. Louis last May, will fill Carpenter's slot in the rotation on Tuesday while working on a limit of 50-60 pitches. Pitching coach Dave Duncan said Thompson will be given a chance to fill the void on a longer-term basis "if he pitches well enough to deserve it."
Carpenter has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 10, nine days after he allowed five runs in six innings in a season-opening loss to the New York Mets. He had been on track to start Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies before experiencing swelling, stiffness and loss of motion after throwing a 60-pitch simulated game Tuesday.
"It was pretty sore the next day," Carpenter said. "I was hoping it was just from not throwing at that intensity for a while, but unfortunately Thursday was just as bad."
The Cardinals had been hopeful of postponing a cleanup procedure until after the season. Paletta described that hope as "pretty much of a crapshoot" although he believed the odds of success were even or perhaps better than that.
The team was reluctant to operate after Carpenter went on the disabled list, given that he had experienced no symptoms throughout spring training. So the medical staff decided on a three-week trial.
"You certainly don't ever want to operate on a guy if he doesn't need an operation, and with one week's worth of symptoms it's hard to tell a guy he needs an operation," Paletta said. "We've seen this before where they get a flare-up and then things settle down.
"Absolutely, positively, it was an easy decision early on."
Carpenter had no arguments with the way the situation was treated.
"You want to try first to take care of it without a procedure," Carpenter said. "We did everything we could."
Paletta said medical tests revealed a series of spurs, comparable to the profile of a mountain range, when the Cardinals signed Carpenter in 2003 while he was recovering from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for nearly two seasons. He said subsequent tests have shown no change in the spurs and the difference now is there's fluid in the elbow.
"Nothing dramatic has changed, other than the fact that for reasons that we can't completely understand he's starting to get inflammation and he's starting to get irritation and swelling of the joint as a consequence of these spurs," Paletta said. "He's got fairly significant spurs."