Carpenter (back) may not be ready for OD

March 6th, 2018

JUPITER, Fla. -- After weeks of displaying cautious optimism about the severity of Matt Carpenter's back injury, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted some concern before Tuesday's 4-4 tie against the Marlins about his first baseman's status for Opening Day.

"No," the manager said, when asked if Carpenter's health worried him. "But, yeah."

The concern centers on the timing of Carpenter's swing, Matheny said, not whether Carpenter's back will keep him off the field much longer. But if the injury keeps him off the field for much longer, the first baseman may not have enough time to measure up against live pitching before the season starts.

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By Matheny's calculations, Carpenter will need to see live pitching soon or risk falling behind to the point where his lack of preparation could become an issue. 

"It's still early," Matheny said. "But we're getting down there to where it's time. It's time things need to be progressing, and they are. He's moving along in the right direction. There is some urgency."

No Cardinals player has appeared in more games over the last five years than Carpenter, whom Matheny tabbed as his No. 3 hitter before camp opened. Nearly a month later, Carpenter has been one of the least visible players in camp, his days spent rehabbing in the trainer's room. Carpenter resumed baseball activities this week, but he's yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. When he will do so is still unknown. 

"If we didn't see that progression continuing, yeah, we would be concerned," Matheny said. "We're pushing it right now in terms of getting him locked in timing-wise. We're probably right at that edge."

The lineup Matheny wrote out before Tuesday's game was Matheny's first of the spring that featured more than a handful of projected starters. In fact, it mirrored what the manager hopes his lineup looks like when the regular season opens against the Mets later this month.

batted leadoff, followed by Tommy Pham. hit cleanup. and shored up the middle infield. strapped on the shinguards.

The only player missing was Carpenter.

"If this doesn't stay on track, I don't know if he'll be timed up," Matheny said. "Physically, I think he'll be ready. Whether he's timed up and actually ready to be at his best when we bust out of the gate [on Opening Day] in New York. … I think we're at that point right now."

More injury updates

was a late scratch at first base after suffering a left groin spasm during a full morning workout before Tuesday's game. started in his place, and went 0-for-3.

Matheny said Martinez's injury could open up playing time for and even catcher , who continued his impressive spring with a towering home run Tuesday.

pitched off a mound for the first time since suffering a left hamstring spasm during a spot start last week, throwing a morning live batting-practice session on the back fields. Norris originally tweaked his hamstring covering first base Thursday. The club preferred he test the hamstring in a live batting-practice setting, instead of in a game, to ensure he wouldn't re-aggravate it trying to field his position.

The injury is not considered serious.

• Right-hander also threw live batting practice -- in lieu of his regularly scheduled bullpen session. Mikolas isn't injured, but he nonetheless threw under the watchful eyes of Matheny and pitching coach Mike Maddux, who are looking for answers after Mikolas' first two spring starts. Signed to a two-year, $15 million contract this winter after three seasons in Japan, Mikolas is 0-2 with a 19.29 ERA in Grapefruit League play.

Matheny talks renewal with Pham

Matheny revealed he approached Pham after news broke Monday that the Cardinals renewed the center fielder's contract for the 2018 season -- which means St. Louis dictated Pham's salary without an agreement from the outfielder and his agent.

Clubs hold the right to impose salary figures on their unsigned arbitration-eligible players, but typically negotiate slight adjustments (read: raises) with them. Renewals are rare, and suggest a disconnect between a player's production and how the player is valued by both parties in a system set up to reward service time above all else. Pham is the first player in Matheny's five-year managerial tenure to have his contract renewed.

"After being offered something, when it doesn't work or it's not what [Pham] wanted, then you just go out and play," Matheny said. "You can't be completely blind to the business of the game, but you can't let it affect the way you go about your business, because then it'll affect the end result. Tommy has a real good picture of that."

Up next

Wednesday will feature an early matchup between two of the game's most decorated right-handers, when lines up for his second spring start against Max Scherzer and the Nationals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. First pitch is set for 12:05 pm CT, live on Gameday Audio.