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Carpenter blames head, not arm for woes

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  • Carpenter blames head, not arm for woes

    Carpenter is blaming head, not arm
    By Joe Strauss

    His final tune-up for the postseason scheduled for Wednesday against the Houston Astros, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter attributes his struggles in consecutive starts to slipping focus rather than a physical ailment.

    A week after rejecting the idea of skipping last Friday's start against the Milwaukee Brewers, Carpenter insists a heavy innings load and recent back discomfort are not a reason for concern. Carpenter insists the greater challenge has been maintaining the tunnel vision that helped him to 13 consecutive wins and a strong push at the club's first Cy Young Award since 1970.

    "If I was hurting, I wouldn't have pitched," Carpenter said last weekend. "That's not the case."

    Carpenter (21-5) lasted only four innings against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 18, the day after the Cardinals recognized their clinch of the NL Central. He allowed nine earned runs in clusters of two, four and three while throwing 106 pitches in 5 1/3 innings against the Brewers on Friday.

    The timing of Carpenter's struggles is more than coincidence, asserts manager Tony La Russa.

    "We've won the division and I think he's lost a little mental edge to his concentration. That's what explains it to me when I see some of the locations and some of the (pitch) selections," La Russa said.

    Carpenter admits his cut fastball recently lost some of its effectiveness, leaving him to get by mostly on a sinking fastball and a curveball. To cushion his innings load, Carpenter has not thrown a side session between starts since August while remaining the only Cardinals starter to work every fifth day this month.

    Carpenter hopes Wednesday's start will allow him to both sharpen his assortment and his mental edge.

    "I want to come out of (Wednesday) feeling quality and feeling strong. Maybe (losing focus) is part of it, and that's my fault.

    "There's so much emphasis on being ready physically and mentally for the first game of the playoffs. I'm losing focus that one day. That's my fault," explained Carpenter, who suffered his first road loss of the season against the Brewers.

    "I wouldn't say I'm letting myself getting ahead of anything, but a little bit of focus is lost on what I'm doing. That's what makes me mad. That's what disappoints me. I'm strong enough mentally not to do that and I've let myself do it anyway."

    Friday's loss snapped a 13-game win streak. Carpenter is 0-1 in his last three starts after becoming the first pitcher since 1920 to go undefeated while making 16 consecutive quality starts. The Cardinals won 17 consecutive Carpenter starts before losing to the Cubs 5-4. Carpenter received no decision in that game.

    In his last three starts, Carpenter has allowed 27 hits in 15 2/3 innings. In his last four wins he allowed 22 hits in 31 2/3 innings.

    Carpenter has been kept on an every-fifth-day schedule to stay on turn for Game 1 of the playoffs. La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan briefly considered bumping his Sept. 18 start but reconsidered because he would not have remained on schedule to start Game 1 if it fell Oct. 4 against the NL West champion.

    The Cardinals will play Oct. 5 should they be paired against a wild card outside their division, presumably the Philadelphia Phillies.

    "I think he'll be fine," La Russa said Saturday. "His back was barking a little bit that first inning in Chicago or else I think he would have been fine that day. He's had a couple games now where the pressure hasn't been the same. He's got one more start against Houston and I think he'll be dialed in. ... All of a sudden the pressure has been totally different on them. The responsibility is more selfish; and he's not a selfish guy."

    La Russa has not admitted allowing Carpenter to return for Friday's sixth inning because of Cy Young Award considerations.

    At the time, Carpenter had allowed six earned runs and been unable to protect a 6-2 fifth-inning lead. He also trailed Florida Marlins lefthander Dontrelle Willis for the league lead in wins.

    "I watched that game. If I thought there was a time to get him, I'd get him," La Russa said. "If I thought he was really laboring physically, the most important priority is the first game of the playoffs. He wasn't laboring physically. He was laboring mentally. There was a way to get out of it and it didn't work."

    Said Carpenter: "If people want to look at one game and say I shouldn't win the award, fine. I've said all along that it's not that big a deal to me. But if had happened four starts ago instead of now, I don't think it would be viewed the same way. It's one game. That's how I look at it."

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