Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 3/16/12
JUPITER, Fla. It was only 30 pitches at less than full strength, but the Cardinals got more good news about ace Chris Carpenter Friday morning. Carpenter, recovering from a bulging disc in his back, returned to the mound Friday for the first time in nearly two weeks. He last faced hitters on March 3 before complaining of persistent pain and stiffness in his neck. The right-hander played catch Wednesday and Thursday before climbing atop the bullpen mounds near the Cardinals clubhouse for a light 30-pitch session that was more of a test than anything else. "Another step in the right direction," Carpenter said. "We'll see how it goes tomorrow when I get up and how the rest of today moves but hopefully I'll wake up tomorrow and feel good. "It was a little better than I had hoped. I felt good. I felt strong and was happy with the way I felt. " Carpenter threw only fastballs and with about 75 percent effort in front of a larger than usual crowd of reporters, coaches and teammates. The former Cy Young Award winner signed a two-year, 21 million extension with the Cardinals last September before leading the Cardinals to their 11th World Series Championship. The club already planned to limit his innings this spring after throwing a career-high 273 13 innings between the regular season and playoffs last year. His next step is unclear. He could throw another bullpen session or jump right into a simulated game against Cardinals hitters. His status for Opening Day remains a mystery, with the first regular season game just 19 days away. "I felt good and the neck feels good and my arm feels good," Carpenter said. "Hopefully the next step will be either do that again in a day or so or maybe get some live BP or something like that and try to move it in the right direction. "After today I'd say I need a couple more. Today was only 30 fastballs so I'm not going to go into a game with that. We'll see. I think the next one will dictate more about that than this one." The Cardinals have said Carpenter needs to make three spring starts before being allowed to open the season in the rotation. He would need to start Tuesday, March 20, to have enough time to make three starts and still be available to start Opening Day. Asked about his current work in the trainer's room, Carpenter said, "The neck treatment is over. We're not concerned about that. Now it's continuing to strengthen and help stabilize my neck so this doesn't happen again."
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