ST. LOUIS – Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter is no stranger to surgeries, undergoing numerous procedures on his right elbow and shoulder during his career. But last week’s surgery in Dallas was the most unique one yet.
And for the 37-year-old Carpenter, hopefully his final one.
“This is about it,” Carpenter said Tuesday. “If this doesn’t work, unfortunately I’m going to have to say goodbye, but I don’t I will. I think it’s going to be fine. I’m excited about it.”
Carpenter underwent season-ending neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery on July 19. The procedure, performed by Dr. Greg Pearl, was done to eliminate a nerve issue that he’s pitched with in his right shoulder since 2008.
The rare surgery involves removing his top rib and two of the neck muscles that connect to it to allow the nerves to freely travel through the neck and shoulder area and not get pinched.
Carpenter dealt with numbness and tingling sensations in his arm and fingers at different points the past four seasons but was able to manage the pain and pitch through it. The issue became unavoidable this spring.
“Everything that I’ve heard from Dr. Pearl was that what he saw and what he did was what was expected,” Carpenter said. “He saw scaring and a lot of trapping of the nerves and he felt good about how he cleaned it up and what he did. He was very positive about the outcome and what it looks like. I’m sure we’ll know by the end of the season whether or not it worked or not but from what he was looking to do, he was very positive.”
The right-hander was back at Busch Stadium Tuesday for the first time since the surgery, but only for a quick visit. He will temporarily remain at home while on the current batch of pain medication but is scheduled to return Thursday.
Carpenter planned to return to St. Louis on Saturday but remained in Dallas an extra day because of the surprisingly high amount of pain following the surgery. He remains sore and in pain, but said it’s improved each day since Thursday.
“It’s pretty sore,” Carpenter said. “There was a lot more pain than I was expecting from the way they painted the picture of it being pretty routine. I ended up staying an extra day because of how sore it was and I didn’t want to get on a plane and fly home and not be around the people that did it but its getting better each day.
“Right now you take this week, we’ll let the scar heal, let the swelling go down and let my body re-adjust to the trauma it went under during surgery and then we’ll start going (with the rehab).”
The Cardinals said Thursday in a press release that, “the anticipated time of rehabilitation is 2-to-3 months and Carpenter should be fully able to have a normal off-season in preparation for the 2013 season.”
Carpenter said he doesn’t know much about the rehab process because the surgery is rare enough that not many have undergone it enough to formulate a typical rehab plan or schedule.
“It’s a lot different than any other surgery that I’ve had,” Carpenter said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be super painful and stuff but I was sore. When all of that stuff goes away, hopefully a week from now we’ll be able to understand a little bit more.
“There really isn’t a whole lot that you can do. It’s more based on pain and soreness. There’s set protocol from what I understand. I know Monday we’ll start doing range and strengthening stuff as long as everything is going OK and then go forward from that.”
The ace first reported neck stiffness and pain following a workout March 3 in spring training. He had a cortisone injection to alleviate the pain, and returned to the bullpen mound nearly two weeks later.
But his arm didn’t respond after another workout a few days later and he returned to St. Louis for a new round of tests. He spent the next several weeks strengthening his shoulder before finally being cleared to begin throwing the final week of May.
Carpenter was progressing steadily before his shoulder didn’t respond following his first throw to hitters on June 22 in Kansas City. He attempted another throw from the Busch Stadium bullpen mound a week later before shutting it down and electing for surgery.
Asked Tuesday if he had any doubt about whether or not he’d pitch again, Carpenter said, “There’s always doubt with everything that I’ve been through but I know one day, I’ll do whatever it takes to get out there again.”
Carpenter threw more than 270 innings in the 2011 regular season and playoffs, the most of any pitcher in baseball. He threw 36 grueling innings in the postseason, including two starts with just three days of rest and three World Series starts.
The veteran right-hander surpassed the 4,000-pitch mark for the first time in his career, finishing with 4,155. He signed a two-year, $21 million extension with the Cardinals in September.
Carpenter has missed nearly five full seasons due to injuries in his career. He went 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA in 34 starts last season. He’s 144-92 in 14 big league seasons with a 3.76 ERA. He won the 2005 Cy Young Award and has won at least 10 games in nine different seasons.
A healthy return in 2013 would give Carpenter the chance to win a rare third Comeback Player of the Year Award. And given his current status, he would welcome receiving the award again next year.
“We’ll see what happens,” Carpenter joked. “Lets just get healthy first and get me back on the mound and give me an opportunity.”