ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter hasn't ruled out pitching again, including this year. If that seems remarkable, remember that it's Carpenter, whose sporadically brilliant career has included several comebacks from injury.
The 37-year-old Carpenter met with reporters at Busch Stadium on Monday as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Jupiter, Fla. Last week, the team said it wasn't counting on the long-time staff ace this season, shut down this time due to apparent circulation problems that left his pitching hand aching and discolored for hours after he left the mound.
Against odds, perhaps, there's dogged optimism.
"Maybe I don't ever want it to end," Carpenter said. "I don't think I'll ever retire, to be honest with you. I'll never say that word. There might always be hope. Maybe like when I'm 48 I can come back and pitch some more."
The 2005 NL Cy Young winner plans on meeting with team medical personnel returning after doing physical exams in Florida. He hadn't responded to text messages from numerous well-wishers, nor one from Dr. Greg Pearl of Dallas, who performed radical surgery last July to relieve nerve compression in the shoulder that involved removing a rib, because he "didn't know what to say."
"It was supposed to be fine," Carpenter said. "And it hasn't been. So we'll see what happens."
When Carpenter was shut down last spring, the symptoms were numbness and tingling up and down the right side of the body, including his face. Carpenter had been confident at the team's Winter Warm-up in mid-January that he'd be ready to go. Not long afterward, he had to cut short his first attempt throwing off a mound. He gave it a few more tries before informing the team.
"I was trying to think of reasons to be positive about what's going on," Carpenter said. "My arm felt pretty good, my hand was a little messed up. It just continued to go downhill."
The fourth session, Carpenter said, he was throwing at 70 percent effort and "had no idea where the ball was going."
Carpenter is entering the second year of a two-year, $21 million contract and said he owed it the organization to keep trying. But after undergoing an eighth surgery last season that "absolutely" left concerns about long-term health, he said there would not be a ninth.
He declined invitations to attend spring training from manager Mike Matheny, general manager John Mozeliak and teammates who consider him a clubhouse leader. Carpenter said he did not want to be a distraction for a team now looking for two new starting pitchers after Kyle Lohse left for free agency, and wasn't ready to be a full-time mentor, especially after getting shut down early in spring training last year.
"I keep hounding on him about it," Matheny said in Jupiter, Fla. "Every time he's around, he brings value. I'd love to have him here. Where he is right now, it's not an easy situation."
Concern about lefty Jaime Garcia's shoulder adds more uncertainty to the rotation from an NL wild card team that lost to the Giants in the NLCS last fall. Young right-handers Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are candidates for spots.
"When you're in this situation once it's hard enough. When you're in it three or four times it becomes a big pain," Carpenter said. "Mentally and physically it's hard to come in every day and try to think you're part of it when you're not."
Carpenter was 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 2005, led the National League with a 2.24 ERA in 2009 and has a career 10-4 record and 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts. He was 4-0 in the 2011 postseason, beating the Rangers twice in the World Series.
But he totaled 21 1-3 innings in 2007 and '08 due to elbow and shoulder woes and missed the 2004 postseason due to nerve issues in the shoulder. He made only six starts last year, half of them in the postseason and none of them close to his old form.
"I felt as soon as I got to a certain pitch count, a certain level, the fatigue starting setting in pretty easy," Carpenter said. "Before I'd never had that problem. I could definitely tell there was a difference."
On Monday, Carpenter said he had no symptoms. Of course, he hasn't been pitching.
"If I feel like I can throw again and I'm cleared to start throwing again, I'm sure I probably will," he said. "I'm not dying, I just have a messed-up arm."