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Cardinals sixth starter, what took you so long?

On Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals made official their plans to return pitcher Lance Lynn to a starter’s program in spring training camp. In fact, the 24-year-old will start Wednesday’s home game against Houston.

The reason is the bulging cervical disc in the neck of Chris Carpenter. The veteran ace has been sidelined indefinitely, his projected opening day start in considerable doubt.

My only question is this: Why did the Cardinals wait until March 12 to name their sixth starter?

Even if Carpenter was healthy now, odds are that someone else will be injured in good time. Even if Carpenter has a miraculous recovery and can take the ball in Miami on April 4, the sixth starter will be needed soon enough.

It isn’t as if their rotation hasn’t shown considerable signs of wear. Six weeks away from his 37th birthday, Carpenter just finished his first-ever stretch of three consecutive years without serious injury. Adam Wainwright is just returning from Tommy John surgery. Kyle Lohse has battled injuries the past few years.

Lynn is and has been the most obvious choice as sixth starter.

A very good starting pitcher throughout his minor league years, the right-hander was named the organizational Pitcher of the Year in 2009 after jumping three levels in one season. He is tested at Triple-A, including logging 13 wins in 2010, and is proven at the major league level as well, stepping into a key relief role last season. In our 2012 Cardinals top 40 prospect list, Lynn is the top-ranked starting pitcher other than Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez.

Other candidates don’t stack up.

Sure, top prospect Miller has made two spring starts, but he has yet to throw an inning at the Triple-A level and could use more time to prepare for what should be a long major league career. Why rush Miller when Lynn is truly ready?

Kyle McClellan went down this path in 2011, filling in Wainwright’s spot to start the season. After a spring ERA of 0.78, McClellan was effective early before running out of gas. Having gone over two months without a win due to injury and ineffectiveness, he was returned to the pen when Edwin Jackson was acquired.

Like Lynn, Brandon Dickson is a proven Triple-A starter whose stuff is not of the same caliber as his former rotation mate. At Cardinals prospect #32 overall, Dickson is just the ninth-ranked starter in the system.

Maikel Cleto is a fireballer who began 2011 in Palm Beach but was forced by injuries to others to make his MLB debut as a reliever. The 22-year-old needs more repetition to refine his pitches and prove he can do more than just throw hard.

While Lynn should have enough time in Florida to prepare to step into St. Louis’ rotation, why didn’t they plan for this from day one? Even if Lynn has to return to Memphis for awhile, I contend the 2012 Cardinals will ultimately be a better team with him continuing to start, and being ready to step into the rotation at a moment’s notice whenever needed.

Yes, Lynn was a valuable member of the 2011 St. Louis bullpen, but there are already more good relievers in camp than jobs available. In a dire situation, Lynn could return to relieving much more quickly than he could execute the reverse move.

I might even go a step further and suggest the 2013 and beyond teams may benefit as well. Lohse and Jake Westbrook will be free agents after this season. The Cardinals need to know if Lynn will be part of their rotation out into the future.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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34 Responses to “Cardinals sixth starter, what took you so long?”

  1. Brian Walton says:

    I received an email asking me why I did not include Roy Oswalt. The answer is that he isn’t a sixth starter. Unless there is a season-ending injury to one of the top five, there is no place on the roster for Oswalt. The difference is that Lynn can go down to Memphis and back as many times as needed.

    • blingboy says:

      A bulging disk doesn’t heal. It can be addressed surgically or it can be left alone to get worse.

      As I understand, how quickly it gets worse depends on how much stress and activity it is subjected to. Couch potato vs professional athlete, in other words.

      If it is subjected to enough stress and activity, it will be too damaged to be repairable. Then it has to be replaced. I think in some cases bones have to be fused, with resulting reduced mobility of the neck.

      It seems like maybe Chris Duncan fooled around with it, trying to stay on the field with the ‘help’ of whatever the team’s med staff was doing, until the whole thing had to come out, and his career was over.

      Maybe I’m being a nattering nabob of negativism. Or learn from what has happened before.

      • crdswmn says:

        I don’t know where you got your information but you are incorrect. Perhaps you are thinking of a herniated disc rather than a bulging disc. I have had a bulging disc for 30 years and it has given me very little problems. Bulging discs almost never require surgery. It was a herniated disc that Chris Duncan had, NOT a bulging disc. Bulging discs are a manageable problem, as I have managed mine quite well for 30 years. Even with an intense weight lifting program I was on until 3 years ago, I had no issues with it.

        • blingboy says:

          I’m not talking about a bulging disc that doesn’t cause problems. I’m talking about one that does cause problems like preventing the sufferer from doing his job. In Chris’s case a disc in the neck must be protruding enough to interact with a nerve. This can cause weakness in the arm and shoulder as well as pain. It is not going to stop protruding and it is not going to stop interacting with the nerve. The stresses put upon it by pitching will not help, but rather will tend to make it get worse.

          I am glad that you have had little trouble with it.

          • crdswmn says:

            Well, but that is not what you said in your post. You said a bulging disc could be addressed surgically or get worse. In fact, most do neither. Interaction with a nerve is often temporary due to swelling from inflammation. Medication and rest causes the swelling to go down. I have had episodes of sciatica with mine but it always went away. So it is not true that all bulging discs always interact with nerves at all times. I understand that all bulging discs are not alike, but you are talking in absolutes here and that is where I disagree with you. You cannot definitely say that because the disc is bulging it is going to cause him problems.

        • blingboy says:

          “For the first time since March 3, Chris Carpenter grabbed a glove, a ball and played catch. ”

          from Langosch blog today.

        • blingboy says:

          Carpenter is consulting today with the same group of specialists he visited following the ’08 season. Surgery was offered — and ultimately rejected — as an option at that time. Mozeliak insisted this morning that surgery is not currently under consideration.

          Read more:

          Doctors offering surgery for a bulging disk. What is the world coming to?

          • T8Ball says:

            I don’t like saying “this will happen” or “this won’t happen”, but “THIS” is going to get uglier. He’ll come back miraculously in 4 weeks, then feel discomfort again, miss 6 weeks, then rip something and miss the next 1 1/2 years.

            Sorry for the Debbie Downer imitation there, but……..yeah.

          • T8Ball says:

            So we are back to 2011 all over again, except our offense is slightly less intimidating. Might have a stiffer bark once Craig is near 100%. Pitching is the same (Waino instead of Carp), insert the new 6th starter.

          • crdswmn says:

            Well, Bling the sarcasm is not lost on me. 🙂 However, I never argued with you about Carpenter specifically but about your absolutist statement that all bulging disks require surgery or get worse. That is categorically not true. Carpenter may be the rare case where surgery is required, though that is not certain, and I understand that surgery for a bulging disk can in fact make it worse instead of better. Often other therapies short of invasive surgery end up with better results.

            Whatever fate awaits Carp, it is certainly not good news and a major bummer.

  2. crdswmn says:

    FYI, the difference between a herniated disc and bulging disc is huge. A bulging disc occurs when the edge of the disc slips out of its sleeve, like a burger that is sticking out from a bun. A herniated disc comes almost completely out and pokes a hole in the surrounding tissues and nerves. It is MUCH more serious and often requires surgery to remove the disc completely. Sometimes they can inject an enzyme in the space to dissolve the disc. I have heard of chiropractors or PT’s being able to manipulate a bulging disc back in. I have not had such a treatment because I haven’t needed it. Anti inflammatories and rest always took care of any flare ups I had and they were very few.

  3. Nutlaw says:

    While I don’t believe that Lance Lynn should be demoted to Triple-A under any circumstance beyond a crash in performance, I entirely agree that he should have been stretched out during Spring Training all along. As stated, going from starter to reliever is no big deal.

    Also, if both Westbrook and Lohse walk after the season, the Cardinals will need more than Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter, and Shelby Miller in the rotation. Lynn makes sense. When Carpenter retires, Martinez is probably ready.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Chris Duncan had an undiagnosed crack in his disk. This was painful, but he did not complain, kept playing and this led to a terrible pain when the crack brought about a rupture.
    Chris Carpenter’s spine and nervous system have been much studied through the years. We shall have to hope there will be topnotch evaluation of his situation.

  5. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    I thought Molina looked like a different player today………………..he is no longer Sancho Panza riding his donkey……..he can afford that thoroughbred now……… he seems confident and secure……………….. they only used the hooper when they needed to….. Waino was working on his other pitches ……….. he got a workout ………….. Matheny loves that Tyler G. ……….. I love to see him run ……. double steal was just made for that situation and Matheny went right after it…………………. his biggest challenge will be patients……..letting the batter gain advantage from the pitch outs …………. I like it………..

  6. blingboy says:

    On the subject of the article, I can’t see where picking a sixth starter candidate now rather than earlier is any problem. Starters are not much advanced over non-starters, and there is plenty of time considering a #5 wouldn’t be needed the first week or so.

    A benefit in waiting is MM, Mo and Lilliquist have had a chance to see what they’ve got, and sort of get their feet wet before commiting. Smart.

  7. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    The naming of Lynn as the 5th/6th is directly related to the K-mac market……that should resolve soon enough…………..

  8. CariocaCardinal says:

    Actually, it would seem inversely related. The more demand for KMac the more need for Lynn in the pen. Probably has more to do with Ottavino developing as a pen option.

  9. ball in play says:

    lynn doesn’t need to be demoted because he is the 6th SP. although it would help if he saw multi-inning appearances from the pen as a 5th, 6th, 7th inning swingman, innings he wouldn’t get as a 8th inning setup man.

    stl switched hawksworth’s role to a SP, from the pen, when lohse and penny went down. they claimed suppan from his couch to be a SP, after finishing with mil as a reliever. a couple 4-5 IP starts are not ideal until lynn could go 6+, but i don’t look for westbrook to ever go past 5 IP, so…….

  10. blingboy says:

    I think I have one in the filter.

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