JUPITER, Fla. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter faced hitters for the first time in two weeks Sunday but his status for Opening Day remains up in the air.
Carpenter, who is dealing with a bulging disc in his back, threw two simulated innings of 20 pitches each to three Cardinals hitters on the back fields of Roger Dean Stadium.
"It was a good step," Carpenter said. "I was excited to get back out there and throw a little bit. Now we move on to the next step, which I think if I wake up good enough tomorrow, we can go out and do that again sometime soon."
The Cardinals had already planned to shorten Carpenter's innings this spring after he threw a career-high 273 13 innings last year between the regular season and playoffs.
But things changed following a throw to hitters on March 3 when the right-hander developed persistent neck stiffness. Thought to maybe be a reoccurrence of a nerve issue that plagued him in the past, Carpenter and the Cardinals were relieved to find out he instead was dealing with a bulging disc in his back.
Carpenter threw a pair of bullpen sessions earlier this week before facing hitters Sunday. He could face hitters again Tuesday or Wednesday and could potentially make his first start next weekend.
"I'm not sure," Carpenter said of his first start. "We'll answer that question tomorrow or the next day. I'm just happy with what happened today. I'll come in tomorrow and evaluate what's going on and play some catch and see what our next step is.
"Everything is good. I'm excited about it. Well see what happens tomorrow."
Despite what appears to be an imminent start in the next week or so, the calendar may run out on Carpenter's chances of pitching Opening Day April 4 in Miami.
The Cardinals had penciled in Carpenter to make that start before he got hurt and want him to make three spring starts before clearing him for regular season action. If he doesn't start until next weekend, enough time wouldn't remain for both.
Asked about his availability for Opening Day, manager Mike Matheny conceded that there might not be enough time to have his ace ready.
"Haven't ruled anything out, but it would be pushing it," Matheny said.
Meanwhile, starter Adam Wainwright made his third start of the spring Sunday inside Roger Dean Stadium. Wainwright, who missed all of the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery, allowed one unearned run on one hit and one walk in four innings.