Chris Carpenter’s miraculous comeback from what was supposed to be season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome surgery is nearly complete, with just one more hurdle to clear before rejoining the Cardinals’ rotation.
Carpenter is scheduled to throw a 90-pitch simulated game Saturday and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports that “barring any surprise development Carpenter is set to make his season debut next week.”
Carpenter last started for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series. He pitched that night on three days’ rest and logged a grand total of 273 innings between the regular season and playoffs at age 36.
He was shut down during spring training after experiencing numbness in his arm and neck. Surgery in July was expected to knock him out for all of this season and put his status for 2013 in question, but Carpenter told Langosch that he was holding out hope for a quicker return all along:
I went into [surgery] strong enough and knew that if I came out of it strong enough, I thought there was a chance. My goal the whole time was to be prepared to let these guys know how I felt at the end of the season so they could go into the offseason knowing what they could count on me for next season.
In other words, even Carpenter never imagined starting multiple key games down the stretch this year, which is exactly what may happen if he can get through tomorrow’s session healthy.
The Arizona Fall League competition came to a close on Saturday, concluding with the Peoria Javelinas’ 8-2 win over the Mesa Solar Sox for the championship title. No one stood out more than Braves’ no. 1 prospect Ronald Acuna, who took home honors as the AFL MVP after slashing .325/.414/.639 with a league-leading seven home runs and second-best 1.053 OPS in 83 at-bats.
At just 19 years old, Acuna is the youngest prospect to receive the award. He made his presence felt even before he suited up for the AFL, earning promotions to the Braves’ Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett and batting a remarkable .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs across three levels in 2017.
Acuna was also a major factor in the Javelinas’ win on Saturday, but he wasn’t the first to make some noise. The Solar Sox got to right-hander T.J. Zeuch in the first inning, leading off with three singles and a run-scoring sac fly to get a 2-0 edge over the Javelinas. It was the only lead they’d get all afternoon and it lasted just two innings. Luis Urias snapped the shutout with a sac fly in the bottom of the second inning, and the Javelinas took the lead with a game-tying RBI single from Acuna and two-run base hit from Braves’ no. 16 prospect Alex Jackson in the third.
From then on, it was smooth sailing for Peoria. Andrew Case, Andres Munoz and Art Warren combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, while the offense tacked on another handful of runs with Acuna’s fourth-inning two-RBI single and Michael Chavis’ eighth-inning triple. With runners at the corners and one out, the Solar Sox lifted right-hander Dakota Bacus for fellow righty Nolan Blackwood. Even he was flummoxed by Acuna, however, who grabbed hold of the first pitch he saw and returned another sac fly to center field for the Javelinas’ eighth and final run of the game.
Only 131 days left until Opening Day, folks.