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News » 'Carp' injury tests Cards' resolve The club is intent on persevering with the arms on hand, though that may change if performanc

'Carp' injury tests Cards' resolve The club is intent on persevering with the arms on hand, though that may change if performanc

'Carp' injury tests Cards' resolve The club is intent on persevering with the arms on hand, though that may change if performanc
CHICAGO - As Chris Carpenter disappeared Tuesday night into the tunnel stretching from the visitors' dugout in Phoenix to the Cardinals clubhouse, manager Tony La Russa wore the expression of a man stricken. He had seen this before. His look of disbelief stemmed from witnessing it again.

Moments later, the manager retreated to the dugout's far corner, turning away from the action to kick together spent paper cups.

Might his mind have been elsewhere than dugout cleanliness?

"A pretty fair read," La Russa reflected Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

La Russa said all the brave things after Carpenter sustained a torn left oblique during a fourth-inning at-bat. He spoke of straddling the line between acknowledging Carpenter's significance and respecting the four other starting pitchers he left behind.

History, however, is less tactful.

The Cardinals don't lose when Carpenter is available for the majority of a season; they don't win when he's missing. You can look it up.

Without Carpenter, the Cardinals missed the postseason in 2003, 2007 and 2008.

With him, they won the NL Central in 2004, 2005 and 2006, twice reaching the World Series and capturing an unlikely world championship in 2006 with Carpenter winning a game in each postseason round.

By failing to acquire veteran depth last winter the Cardinals gambled that Carpenter would return from last season's nerve disorder and an unrelated November nerve transposition. John Mozeliak insisted after his first season in the GM's chair that he would not bet a season again on pitching of questionable health.

The club acknowledges Carpenter will miss at least four weeks recovering from the oblique tear but there is no guarantee his absence won't extend for two months.

Once again the Cardinals are betting on hope.

They hope that one of several organizational arms emerges to limit exposure of an admittedly vulnerable bullpen.

"You're going to first try to take advantage in system to see where it works. If you don't get results, you naturally weigh other options," Mozeliak said.

They hope that the bullpen's right side takes shape even as closer types Jason Motte and Chris Perez are asked for multiple innings.

They hope that Carpenter's tear is indeed less pernicious than the one that hobbled Woody Williams for much of 2003. Thursday's finding gave rise to optimism within the front office that Carpenter's season had reached nothing more than a speed bump.

"I don't think this is going to be a test of exposure," Mozeliak said. "It's obviously going to be an opportunity for other players in the system who otherwise wouldn't have received a chance."

Friday provided mixed initial returns when soft-tossing P.J. Walters needed 60 pitches to push through two eventful innings in his major-league debut before retiring six of his last seven hitters faced. Walters left the game with a lead that didn't last, just as Carpenter left behind a 3-0 edge Tuesday that ended as a 10-inning loss.

A quiet tug existed within the organization last winter to locate a veteran safety net should Carpenter or any other starter stumble.

The notion was rejected as the development-conscious Cardinals turned away from six-year free agents for fear of blocking their drafted pitchers' progress. The approach also brought cost savings.

For now, Walters and Mitchell Boggs are leading candidates to replace Carpenter. Mozeliak insists there is no current need to explore outside options.

"Time will test that," he said. "My confidence level between Walters and Boggs is high."

La Russa finds comfort among the remaining foursome of Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pi?eiro.

"We still have a fairly experienced core of guys here," La Russa said. "I'm not going to disrespect those guys by standing here and moaning about what we don't have. I'm confident in them. They're confident in themselves. They should be."

Regardless of who replaces Carpenter, the need exists for consistent innings. Walters' high-pitch debut left open the possibility that Boggs will take the next turn later this week against either the New York Mets or Chicago Cubs. Including Saturday's game at Wrigley, Cardinal starters have lasted three, five, six, four and five innings beginning with Tuesday's loss.

"As far as the rest of us, I don't believe 'pressure' is the right word," said Wellemeyer, starting pitcher in Sunday's series finale against the Cubs. "We just need to go out and do our jobs. That's any time. That's not pressure. That's our responsibility."

"The four are very capable of covering," Mozeliak said of the rotation's remaining core. "The fact that guys like Perez and (Jason) Motte can give you a couple innings ... I think we have protection that way. Without giving out levels or strict roles, guys may understand they may have to wear multiple hats."

"We still have a fairly experienced core of guys here. I'm not going to disrespect those guys by standing here and moaning about what we don't have." Tony La Russa

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 19, 2009

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