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Notes: Righty seeks playoff return
10/13/2004 7:22 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter's season is over. Or is it?

Manager Tony La Russa said before Wednesday's Game 1 of the National League Championship Series that his best starting pitcher would not be available to pitch, even if St. Louis makes it to the World Series. But Carpenter isn't so sure, after getting some encouraging news from the doctor.

"I went in and they basically said it was normal," Carpenter said of the irritated nerve in his right arm that has sidelined him since Sept. 18. "Now, after not doing anything for so long, it's atrophied and a little weak. So I have to build some strength back and not push it too hard, but push it hard enough to test it and see if it's here."

Carpenter played some catch on Wednesday, the first time he has thrown a ball at all since the diagnosis of nerve irritation. He's still a long way from being able to pitch in a game, but the first and most critical step has been overcome.

"Obviously I haven't thrown in 3 1/2 weeks or whatever," he said. "But I played catch today, threw like 40-45 throws. I definitely wasn't lobbing it, but I also wasn't throwing as hard as I could. It was a nice, easy first day. We'll see how it feels tomorrow and do it again tomorrow.

"[There is] no soreness, no nothing. It's just a little weak."

Earlier in the day, La Russa had all but written off the man who was his team's de facto ace this year.

"I actually talked to him today, and he had a good exam yesterday," La Russa said. "He's feeling improved. I just think it's so unrealistic to have him feel good enough to get in shape to pitch. I think you just feel real good that he's healing, and he should be 100 percent and we'll see him next year."

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In response to a follow-up question, La Russa was even more blunt: "I don't see how it's possible," he said of a return this postseason.

"I'm always going to have hope, but realistically, I don't know," Carpenter said. "Day-to-day. We'll see how it goes, how I recover. When I start to stretch it out and put a little more stress on it, we'll see how it goes."

Carpenter was removed from a game against the Diamondbacks due to what was diagnosed as a strained right biceps. Further examination revealed nerve irritation in the arm. The right-hander has slowly made progress, but he still doesn't have sufficient function in the nerve to begin throwing. The only real treatment, according to the team's medical staff, is rest.

In his first season pitching for the Cardinals, Carpenter went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA, 152 strikeouts and 38 walks in 182 innings. If healthy, he almost certainly would have been the team's Game 1 starter in the Division Series and LCS.

Slow down: A day after Julian Tavarez expressed his assessment of the two NLCS teams in no uncertain terms, La Russa weighed in on Tavarez's comments. The unpredictable right-handed reliever said, among other things, "They are good, but we are better than them. ... We are the best because we've got 108 wins. We've proved it. We are the best."

The skipper didn't place a gag order on Tavarez, but the comments clearly weren't La Russa's favorite part of Monday's workout day.

"That's why all the questions should be directed to the coaches and the manager," he quipped.

"It's the same thing as what [the Dodgers' Odalis] Perez said. You've got to believe in your team. It's no more than that. You're not insulting the other club. You just have confidence."

Perez, Los Angeles' left-handed starter, said before the Division Series that if Los Angeles beat St. Louis, the Dodgers were headed to the World Series.

At least you're pitching: It caught some people by surprise when the Cardinals announced their NLCS rotation on Monday and Jason Marquis was the man guaranteed to start only once -- and Marquis himself was among those surprised. The right-hander will start Game 4, while the other three Cards starters -- Woody Williams, Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan -- could each get two starts if the series goes the distance.

When asked for the reasoning, La Russa put it very simply.

"Suppan pitched better than Jason [in the Division Series]," he said. "I saw Jason's comments in the paper. He's a guy that's confident in his own abilities, and he's disappointed. But he is getting a start. He gets his chance on Sunday. Maybe he could start three times in the World Series if we get there. I don't begrudge him speaking out."

Respect, not love: One running theme in the days leading up to the start of Game 1 has been the mutual respect between St. Louis and Houston. That contrasts with the mutual, um, distaste between the Red Sox and Yankees, who are playing in the AL Championship Series. Game 2 starter Morris put it in perspective, however -- noting that it's not as though the two teams are going out for drinks in between games.

"I think we respect them," he said. "We try to go about it the same way they do, play the game right, play it hard. There's going to be situations that just come out of competition that might anger you, but you know they're trying to do the right thing, and hopefully they know we're trying to play the game the right way.

"So you let the talent speak for itself, and you take your best shot and then see which team's going to be on top. But I don't think there's any love lost after the competition. During, it might be a little different. But like I said, they've got a veteran core there that we respect, and we've always respected, and we enjoy competing against them."

Bits and pieces: The Cardinals didn't make any changes to their roster between the Division Series and Championship Series. ... Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, a hero of the 1985 NLCS, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game. ... Wednesday is the 19th anniversary of the freak accident in which star outfielder Vince Coleman suffered a leg injury when the automatic tarpaulin rolled over him during stretching.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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