St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter set to return on Tuesday

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 29: Matt Carpenter
ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 29: Matt Carpenter /

The St. Louis Cardinals will see a familiar face return to the lineup on Tuesday. What should we expect from Matt Carpenter before Spring Training ends?

Glenn Sattell of reported yesterday Matt Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, will finally see some action this Spring. Carpenter will make his debut on Tuesday against the Miami Marlins. For many, it is a sigh of relief.

The St. Louis Cardinals held Carpenter out of baseball activity for the first half of Spring Training due to a sore back. John Mozeliak expected Carpenter to return to the lineup a week earlier, but he just wasn’t ready. In that time, Carpenter stood in for pitchers for “live” batting practice. He didn’t swing at any pitchers, but tracked pitches out of the hand.

Here are a couple of things to keep tabs on come Tuesday:

Leading off or batting third?

I’m not going to get into the numbers of this argument to support one narrative over the other, but the St. Louis offense hinges on where St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny places Matt Carpenter in the lineup. Matheny will have to decide how best to maximize the St. Louis lineup with the hitter profiles he has available to him.

It won’t be an easy choice, but Matheny hinted at Carpenter batting third this season many times already. Matheny also gave us a sneak peek of what the Opening Day lineup could be last week against the Marlins. In that game, the order looked like this :

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Dexter Fowler

Tommy Pham

Paul DeJong

Marcell Ozuna

Yadier Molina

Jedd Gyorko

Kolten Wong

Luke Voit

Come Tuesday, the lineup will look a little different. My guess is Matt Carpenter slides into the three hole behind Pham and Paul DeJong will slide to the fifth or sixth hole.

I think it’s also important to remember one thing.

Regardless of where Carpenter hits in the lineup, the Cardinals need him to revert back to some old form in terms of hitting for average. He still hits for power and still draws a ton of walks, but he needs to be able to do much more than that.

Personally, I think he can excel as the St. Louis Cardinals third place hitter. Well, until he goes into another slump that is…

Health issues

More important than where Carpenter is hitting is whether his back is healthy enough to play. Last week on the Official Redbird Rants podcast, we got into the discussion of Carpenter’s health issues and spoke on the long-term effects of his injuries. For me it was a matter of keeping Carpenter healthy for the entire season versus temporarily.

If there is any sign of back issues heading into Opening Day, I would rather Carpenter get 100% healthy and play 80% of the season than be at 75% health and play 100% of the season. I say that because the area of injury is critical to a hitter. I mean, look at how Carpenter’s hitting suffered with his shoulder injury.

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My point is if the St. Louis Cardinals rush him back and the injury gets worse, the team will have a hard time replacing his value. Luckily, Jose Martinez is raking in Spring Training at the moment, but how long will that last?

I’ll be interested to see if he is putting 100% effort behind his swings and interested in how many plate appearances he gets on Tuesday. I think he will play the full game, but I expect at most for him to log in three at bats before being pulled.

Managing expectations

At the end of the day, we all have some expectations of Matt Carpenter at this point in Spring Training. However, I think it will be important for each of us to manage those expectations within reason. I’m not saying you can’t have any expectations for him to succeed, but remember this is game one for him.

Much like how I wasn’t critical of Miles Mikolas after his first start with the club, I won’t be too harsh on Carpenter if he does not perform well. I’m actually not expecting anything great from him to begin with, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect him to be ready to go by Opening Day. He will need to work hard over the next two weeks before heading to New York to take on the Mets on March 29th.

Next: Carpenter's cost of toughness

I for one am glad Carpenter is back. I just hope he can stay healthy through the rest of the Spring.