Cards hope to have Carpenter back in '08; Molina out of hospital

ST. LOUIS -- A second opinion backed up the St. Louis Cardinals' hope that ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, whose surgically-repaired elbow has bothered him the last few weeks, might still be able to join the rotation this year.

Carpenter, the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2005, was examined in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday by Dr. James Andrews. That exam confirmed the Cardinals' diagnosis that Carpenter, who made only one start last season before undergoing reconstructive surgery in July, was just working through typical rehab pains.

Carpenter said he "absolutely" expected to pitch this year and wasn't far from beginning a rehab stint. The team had been projecting a mid-July return before the right-hander was hindered by what the team termed as chronic pain.

"I don't feel this is anything major," Carpenter said. "My elbow looks good and everybody reacts differently at different times, so it's just a frustrating process.

"It's a long mental battle every single day. You have a lot of good days and then it kicks you in the butt with a bad day."

Carpenter is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, and general manager John Mozeliak said Tuesday the right-hander will get an extra day of rest between sessions for the time being. Carpenter had been anticipating the start of a rehab stint before he encountered soreness in a 60-pitch simulated game last week.

"It's my hope that this is something he can pitch through, and we're still hopeful he can pitch in '08," Mozeliak said.

Catcher Yadier Molina, who was flattened in a tag play at the plate on Sunday, said he hoped to be back in the lineup in a few days. Molina was still experiencing headaches from what the team diagnosed as a mild concussion but passed numerous tests after spending a night in the hospital as a precaution and said he could play in an emergency in Tuesday night's interleague game against the
Kansas City Royals. Molina didn't get into the game, which the Cardinals lost 2-1.

"I feel fine," Molina said. "I don't know how, but I feel fine."

Backup Jason LaRue, who entered the night hitting .193 in only 57 at-bats, was due for his first extended playing time of the season although Molina told manager Tony La Russa he wanted to start on Wednesday. It was major progress considering Molina was taken off the field on a body board and wearing a neck brace after getting run over by Phillies pinch runner Eric Bruntlett with his back turned to the play.

Molina was face down in the dirt for several minutes although he never lost consciousness. He said a violent collision with
Ty Wigginton in a game against the Pirates in 2004, his rookie season, topped the Bruntlett hit.

But he confessed to worries about his career after Sunday's injury, recalling how former teammate Mike Matheny's career was ended by concussions.

"When you see what happened to Mike, you think it's going to happen to you, too," Molina said. "I got scared because I don't want to stop playing baseball.

"Hopefully, I'm fine."

The news was not so good for Todd Wellemeyer, a surprise 7-game winner in his first full season as a starter. Wellemeyer will miss his second turn in the rotation this month due to elbow issues after allowing a career-worst eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 20-2 loss to the Phillies on Friday.

"He's feeling better, but we're not going to risk it," manager Tony La Russa said. "When we get him back we want to make sure he's not pushing himself to pitch."

Anthony Reyes, once the team's brightest pitching prospect, will take Wellemeyer's place on Thursday in the finale of a three-game interleague series against the Kansas City Royals. Reyes, recalled on Saturday from Triple-A Memphis, worked a scoreless 10th on Sunday to get the victory in a 7-6 victory over Philadelphia.

Reyes was 1-2 with a 3.87 ERA in seven minor league starts after being optioned on May 4. He beat the Tigers in the 2006 World Series opener, but was 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA last season. This year he's 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 10 games, all in relief.

Wellemeyer, claimed off waivers from the Royals last June, is 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 14 starts. He was the NL pitcher of the month in May after going 4-0.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.