ST. LOUIS - Chris Carpenter has pitched in Springfield, Mo., before. In a previous life, when he was recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery in 2008, the Cardinals right-hander made a start there on the rehab trail in July, which led him as far as Chicago in early August until he suffered a shoulder injury that ended that season with the Cardinals after only four games.
On Monday, Carpenter will be back in Springfield to begin another rehabilitation procedure.
After throwing 56 pitches to three Cardinals batters Wednesday and generally impressing everyone who saw him - including his toughest critic, himself - the New Hampshire native and Trinity High of Manchester, N.H., graduate will begin what could be as long as a 30-day medical rehabilitation option when he starts for the Cardinals' Class AA club in a Texas League game against Arkansas.
Originally, Carpenter, trying once again to come back from a nerve issue that affected his right shoulder, was slated to begin the minor-league process of his rehabilitation at Jupiter, Fla., in the Gulf Cost League. But apparently he has shown enough that he can jump right to Springfield and perhaps give the Cardinals an idea of what he has before the July 31 trading deadline, when all contenders normally seek pitching help.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Carpenter's Wednesday session, "I thought he was very good. He proved everything he needed to prove. We're excited now to take the next step."
Matheny said Carpenter would be targeted to throw 60-some pitches in his first taste of competition since he lasted just four innings in Game 6 at San Francisco of the National League Championship Series last year.
Carpenter allowed that "my stuff was good. It's continuing to get better. The timing to make consistent, quality pitches down in the strike zone still has a little ways to go but ... I was expecting some quality work, and I got that."
Shane Robinson, Pete Kozma and Rob Johnson took swings in what amounted to three simulated innings.
Robinson, who had faced the right-hander once before this season in an aborted comeback bid, said Carpenter was "very impressive. After my first two at-bats, I had to turn it up a notch. If I'm in a game and I'm facing him three times, he probably would have won the battle today. He's just fine-tuning his stuff right now. When he's done, it's going to be fun to watch.
"I said last time he was like night and day from last year. Today, he was night and day from the last time I faced him. He was throwing four to five miles an hour faster, his ball was cutting more, and he was throwing a 12-6 hammer (curveball)."
Springfield and the Cardinals' Triple-A team, Memphis, both are at home July 20 and July 25, which would be other prospective dates for the 38-year-old Carpenter to start.
"There's definitely some excitement about starting the process to get back," said Carpenter, who also has been waylaid a couple of times this year by lower back issues.
But it isn't all about just Carpenter, who pretty much had determined this winter that he was through pitching before his arm began to rebound.
Carpenter said. "I've got to prove I can stay healthy and prove I'm good enough to take one of these guys' spots (in the rotation) because what I've done in the past doesn't mean I get an opportunity to kick someone out of here when we're doing so well."
But veteran Jake Westbrook, asked Wednesday if he had any doubt that Carpenter would come back to the majors, said, "No. Not after what I saw today."