At the time of the thoracic outlet surgery, the Cardinals characterized the procedure as season-ending. An interesting thing happened on Tuesday, though. Both Carpenter and Matheny took a step back, refusing to completely rule out the possibility of a late-season return by the 37-year-old right-hander.
"He's different than others," Matheny said. "He is."
Getting any on-field contributions from Carpenter in 2012 is still a significant question mark. But before Tuesday, such a proposition wasn't even deemed a possibility.
"I worked my butt off leading up to the surgery so that when I had a surgery, I would lose the least amount of strength that I could," said Carpenter, who hasn't pitched this season. "That way I could be ahead of the curve and get back faster. It didn't take me long to get strong. It didn't take me long to get my arm strength back. And I feel good."
The Cardinals initially provided a 3-4 month recovery window for Carpenter, who began throwing on flat ground about two weeks ago. Those long-toss sessions have led to bullpen sessions, which Carpenter will continue to throw as long as his arm continues to respond well.
Assuming he has no trouble bouncing back from Tuesday's session, Carpenter is set to throw off the mound again on Friday.
The most immediate priority for Carpenter isn't whether he'll pitch in 2012, but whether the surgery was successful enough for him to undertake a normal offseason program that will allow him to prepare properly for 2013.
"We're just trying to get me to the point where we know whether or not I can be counted on for the spring and next season, or not," Carpenter said. "I think that's fair to me. It's fair to the organization. It's fair to this team to know what direction they can move in the offseason. If they can count on me, they get a starting pitcher. If they can't, then obviously they'll have to figure out what to do to fill my spot.
"We're going to move in that direction and see where it takes us."
But could a process intended to provide the organization with clarity also push Carpenter to a place on the Cardinals' postseason roster?
Well, with the playoffs still a little more than five weeks away, Carpenter has sufficient time to build up his arm. He wouldn't be in position to start for the Cardinals in October, but he could be a candidate for a bullpen spot.
When presented with a projection of how his bullpen could look if Carpenter were inserted, Matheny grinned.
"Looking over the whole course of this deal -- how many times we've had him excited, we've had us excited -- I think we're all just taking a slower approach," Matheny said. "Let's just take it a day at a time."