ST. LOUIS -- More than a dozen teammates, as well as several staff members and team personnel, gathered with anticipation behind the batting cage well before the Cardinals' full batting practice was set to begin on Tuesday. They weren't there to watch hitters. Rather, it was right-hander Chris Carpenter commanding all the attention.
Carpenter's journey toward a late-season return to the rotation hit another checkpoint on Tuesday, as he threw approximately 50 pitches during three simulated "innings." Carpenter, who is recovering from July thoracic outlet surgery, earned glowing reviews of the session afterward.
"He doesn't look like he's hurting at all," said Bryan Anderson, who caught Carpenter. "He looked good. He looked just like it was old Carp."
"The ball was jumping out of his hand," manager Mike Matheny added. "It's really in his finish. He has sink, he has cut, which he wasn't really able to do before."
Three hitters -- Adron Chambers, Ryan Jackson and Pete Kozma -- stepped in to help Carpenter simulate at-bats. In all, Carpenter faced Chambers five times, Jackson four times and Kozma three times.
"The stuff that he threw today was sharp," Kozma said. "There was a little sink to it. His fastball looked like he had a little something on it. His breaking ball looked good."
Carpenter, too, was pleased.
"I was happy with it," he said. "It definitely was better than the last time, too, which is a good thing. I threw more pitches, felt like the ball was down better this time."
While the Cardinals are leery of publicizing Carpenter's tentative schedule over the next few weeks, this much is known: Carpenter will throw a bullpen session on Friday and then have another simulated outing in San Diego on Monday. He'll likely stretch his arm out to about 60-65 pitches in that effort.
From there, Carpenter is expected to stay on a five-day rotation, which would have him lined up to throw about 75-80 pitches in a simulated game on Sept. 15. The Cardinals, who have said they would like to have Carpenter ready to throw 90 pitches before he comes off the disabled list, could then activate Carpenter the following week.
If all stays on schedule, Carpenter could make as many as three regular-season starts for St. Louis.
"As long as I continue to progress and feel good, I want to be able to pitch," said Carpenter, who has not pitched this season. "I also need to make sure I'm good enough to help this ballclub. We've got some quality guys. I've got to get my stuff right, get my command right, get my pitch limit up to where I can give us a positive effort."
As for the crowd that gathered around to watch him on Tuesday?
"I think it's more just them excited to see me go back out there and throw," Carpenter said. "It just shows the kind of guys we have on this club. They want to come out and kind of go on this journey with me and see where we're at, which is neat."
Top prospect Miller ready to contribute in 'pen
ST. LOUIS -- Rewarded for turning around his Triple-A season after showing receptiveness to the organization's midseason suggestions, Shelby Miller arrived in St. Louis prepared to contribute to a stretch run.
While the Cardinals haven't ruled out the possibility of Miller making a September start, his place, for now, is in the bullpen, where he'll be available as soon as he's needed.
"I knew it was always a possibility if I had a good year," Miller said of the callup. "It took a huge turn and I started pitching a lot better. It's just a huge honor. I tried to keep a positive look at it all year, and now I'm here."
For Miller, his big league arrival isn't only the cap to a career-long goal, it's the culmination of a tumultuous Minor League season. Many expected Miller, who is the team's top prospect, to be here much earlier than September. He was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and 2011, and he had not endured much in the way of struggles at any level.
His first taste of Triple-A, though, was, for several reasons, not pleasant. The weight Miller dropped over the winter in an attempt to become fitter cost him velocity. His hesitancy to utilize his offspeed pitches allowed batters to sit on his fastball. He was giving up home runs at an alarming rate.
Through his first 17 starts, Miller had four wins and a 6.17 ERA. The turnaround, though, began around the time of the All-Star break. After it, Miller posted a 7-2 record and 2.88 ERA in 10 starts. He struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings.
Miller also regained about 10 pounds, which helped him gain back the lost velocity.
"Going on how I started, I didn't know what was going to happen," Miller said. "I could have gotten traded. They could have given up on me. I stayed positive. I turned my season around. I took everything into consideration. Now, I'm here and I'm happy.
"At the same time, I didn't have near the season I wanted to. If I would have thrown better earlier, maybe I could have gotten called up earlier. But now that I'm here, it's a huge relief to know that they were paying attention to my progress."
Miller's biggest adjustment now will be learning how to pitch in relief. All 78 of his Minor League appearances were starts.
"We brought him here to use him," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's not just a gift trip. He pitched very well and he's one of the best arms we have in the system, and we're in a push here, so we need to have our best ready."
Holliday day to day with back tightness
ST. LOUIS -- Already down one corner outfielder, the Cardinals lost another on Tuesday, as Matt Holliday was forced out of St. Louis' 5-1 win over the Mets due to lower back tightness in the seventh inning. However, it does not appear as if Holliday will be sidelined for a substantial amount of time.
Manager Mike Matheny said he became concerned that Holliday wasn't right while observing Holliday's body language after the outfielder drew a seventh-inning walk.
"Once he got to first base, he was kind of being ginger with it and doing a little extra stretching," Matheny said. "I knew there was something going on there."
Matheny, along with the club's trainer, went out to check on Holliday. Shortly after, all three walked off the field. Adron Chambers replaced Holliday as a pinch-runner.
Holliday, who was not available postgame to describe the injury, will be reevaluated on Wednesday. His status, like that of fellow outfielder Carlos Beltran, is considered day to day. Beltran is dealing with a bothersome left knee bruise.
Yadier Molina collected his 1,000th career hit with a second-inning infield single on Tuesday. The crowd recognized the achievement by giving Molina a standing ovation, and the ball he hit was taken out of play so it could be kept in safekeeping. With 1,000 hits as a Cardinal, Molina now ranks 33rd on the franchise's all-time hits list.
Bothered by a bruised left knee, outfielder Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup for a second straight game on Tuesday. Matheny described Beltran as "close" to being cleared to return, and Matheny did not rule out Beltran being back in the lineup as early as Wednesday.
Chris Corrigan, who threw a perfect game for high Class A Palm Beach last week, has now been honored as the Florida State League's Pitcher of the Week. Corrigan struck out nine in the 94-pitch effort against the Charlotte Stone Crabs last Wednesday. It was Corrigan's final start of the Minor League season.
Double-A Springfield is set to open its Texas League playoff series against Tulsa on the road Wednesday night. The winner of the best-of-five series will earn a spot in the championship series next week.
Jackson and Chambers arrived from Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday as part of the Cardinals' wave of September callups. With the additions of Jackson, Chambers and Miller, St. Louis now has 31 active players.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.