We do not have a ton of information on what exactly happened to Matt Carpenter. We know that he experienced dizziness during a game and had to be removed a little more than a week ago. We know he had a scheduled day off last Thursday, and then remained in St. Louis as the Cardinals traveled for Pittsburgh due to "extreme fatigue". Carpenter went through a lot of tests, and he is not dealing with a virus or cardiovascular issue. The break caused Bernie Miklasz to wonder if the Cardinals were working too hard. We can all be grateful that Carpenter is back with the team, but his absence should serve as a reminder of the grind of the long regular season, the work that baseball players put in during the season and after, and that players might need more breaks than they have been getting.
John Mozeliak spoke about Carpenter's health in Derrick Goold's notes piece:
"It was a combination of dehydration and fatigue and those symptoms are not something we're overly familiar with in terms of dealing with them," Mozeliak said. "When you're hearing somebody is dehydrated and someone has dizziness your assumption is get them back with fluids and they'll be fine. Clearly it was something more than that. ... It just felt like it was in his best interests in terms of long-term health for this season that we needed to take a timeout."
While we do not really know exactly what happened to Matt Carpenter, in terms of the message it sends, it does not completely matter. Much like Adam Wainwright's freak Achilles injury that occurred while batting but could have happened anywhere served to launch a discussion about the designated hitter, Carpenter's break should draw attention to the work the players go through and the break they need. Mike Matheny recognized the problem.
"Maybe this is something we need to do with more guys," he said Saturday. "You're beat down. Go home. You're not playing so you're not going to be here. That's so counter-intuitive to all of them because a lot of them probably get more satisfaction making it and grinding it as much anything else. I'm just not sure it's healthy."
Dave Cameron recently floated the idea of expanded active rosters with players only being active for six out of seven games. While the idea does have merits, it does little to solve the problem right now. With players reporting to Spring Training sometime in February and playing into October, they are on the field for more than eight months a year. The four month break for players has become less of a time for rest and relaxation and more time preparing for the season. Matt Carpenter's work ethic is well-known, always arriving well before the game to get in workouts. Matt Holliday's rigorous offseason workouts prepare him for the long regular season. Their work ethic is admirable, but the only real solution to ensuring players do not wear down is giving them time off during the regular season.
Playing time is in Mike Matheny's hands. He determines when players get a day off, but for the Cardinals' best players, days off are rare. Matheny suggested perhaps other players should occasionally stay home or take a series off, which sort of removes Matheny from making a decision. It becomes an organizational decision, and it is understandable why Matheny would suggest this route. Perhaps Matheny's best attribute as a manager is that the team plays hard and he has the team's respect. One of the reasons for this is that Matheny places a lot of trust on the player, and if the player tells Matheny he can play, then that player plays. Forcing proven players like Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, and Yadier Molina to the bench on more occasions is difficult, not just because he wants to send the message that he is counting on those players, but also because those players are going to give the Cardinals' the best chance to win the game on any given day.
Including playoffs, Johnny Peralta has played 162 games in the last calendar year. He will be 33 years old at the end of this month. Matt Carpenter has played in 157 games over the last calendar year and averaged more than 170 games per season, including playoffs, over the two previous seasons. Matt Holliday has played 157 games over the last calendar year and from 2012-2014, he has averaged 164 games per season. Holliday is 35 years old. Yadier Molina was injured for a chunk of last year, but he still managed to play 116 games in 2014 after averaging 154 games per season, including playoffs, from 2011-2013. He has started at catcher in 27 of 31 games so far this season. He will turn 33 years old during the All-Star break this year.
The Cardinals' veterans could use more time off. It is not as enjoyable as fans when we see Yadier Molina, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter out of the lineup, but to preserve their health over the course of the season, bench players should be playing more. If that means changing the dynamic of the bench so that there are players who might have a little better bats on the infield, then that needs to happen. Matt Carpenter's extreme fatigue caused a necessary break for him in May, and it should remind the organization that all players, not just Carpenter, are working incredibly hard and might need more breaks than they have been getting.