There was something strange about the starting lineup the St. Louis Cardinals released for Friday's game against the Pirates in Pittsburgh: Matt Carpenter wasn't in it for the second consecutive day.
Since winning the starting second baseman job entering the 2013 season, Carpenter has missed two consecutive games just once. That happened last September, when manager Mike Matheny gave Carpenter the series opener on a Friday night off against the Cubs in Game 155 for the Cardinals and also sat him in Game 156, which was the first half of a day-night doubleheader. Even then, Carpenter didn't get two days off in a row when the Cardinals played, just two games. He started the night cap of the doubleheader, Game 157. One must go back to September 2012 for the last time Carpenter did not appear in games for two consecutive days.
There was reason for concern. Matheny pulled Carpenter in the eighth inning of Sunday's series finale against the Pirates due to lightheadedness. Brian Stull relayed at STL Baseball Weekly (complete embedded audio) Carpenter's comments after the game:
"I’m good, just got a little lightheaded–I think I got just a little dehydrated," said Carpenter after the game. "I don’t feel right, but I’m good now. For whatever reason, something snuck up on me. I got lightheaded and dizzy, felt dehydrated. I don’t know what it was but I’ll be fine, I’m good to go."
It turns out Carpenter wasn't good to go for long. The All-Star third baseman played the first three games of the four-game series against the Cubs, but Matheny sat Carpenter for Thursday afternoon's getaway game for what was a predetermined day-off. On Friday afternoon, the Cardinals revealed that not only was Carpenter not starting, he did not even accompany the club on the flight to Pittsburgh because he is at home in St. Louis resting with "extreme fatigue," according to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch.
Matheny shared with the press that Carpenter was suffering from dizziness, dehydration, and an accelerated heartbeat, reported Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Goold also quoted Matheny as follows:
"They had some of the dehydration stuff they’re still trying to get on top of and it really came down to an issue where the medical team saw some extreme fatigue.
"Their suggestion was we just have to back off."
Langosch reported additional Matheny comments at MLB.com that reflect a conflation of correlation and causation in the manager's mind:
"I don't think it's coincidence that [this happens while] we're right in the middle of a 20-game stretch," Matheny said. "I don't think it's a coincidence that the intensity of the types of games we've been playing or a coincidence [that this is a] guy who just does not back off. It's full throttle all the time. We love how he goes about the game, but obviously there is a price to pay. It's a hard pace to keep up. He's been pushing and pushing and pushing just like a lot of these guys."
Cardinals fans know all about Carpenter's work ethic. He is the definition of baseball rat, a grinder. Over the last two regular seasons, Carpenter has appeared in 157 and 158 games respectively. Put otherwise, he has sat out nine of the Cards' 324 games.
How long will Carpenter be out? It's unclear right now. That the club has not placed Carpenter on the 15-day disabled list offers a silver lining to this cloud. It appears that they think he'll be ready to play soon enough that they're willing to play in Pittsburgh (if not Cleveland as well) a man down on the bench. Hopefully Carpenter is able to join the team on Tuesday for their series against the Indians.
Being without Carpenter is bad enough, but Carpenter's non-DL unavailability also leaves the club a man down with respect to the bench. The situation is made all the worse by the club's current reliever-heavy roster configuration—a balance made necessary by the loss of workhorse ace Adam Wainwright, consecutive extra-inning games against Pittsburgh last weekend, and a string of abbreviated starts that created a heavy workload for the relief corps.
On Friday, the Cardinals had 24 players in Pittsburgh: five starting pitchers, eight relievers (one more than the usual seven), eight starting position players, and three bench players (including backup catcher Tony Cruz). Starter Michael Wacha turned in a good performance, allowing three runs in six innings, but the bullpen still had to cover three innings—Matt Belisle, Seth Maness, and Trevor Rosenthal pitched an inning each and Mitch Harris got loose alongside Rosenthal with the Cards threatening to plate a run in the ninth that would have turned their three-run lead into a four-run lead and eliminated the save opportunity. We'll see if the Cardinals feel comfortable enough with the bullpen's workload to make a move to bolster the bench yet this weekend by sending a reliever back down to Memphis.