ST. LOUIS Don't worry about the fact that Chris Carpenter only made three regular season starts. Give him a chance in the playoffs and his track record shows just what he's capable of doing.
And he badly wants the chance to do it again.
The right-hander made his third start of the season Tuesday night, allowing seven hits and three runs in six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out seven, continuing to show improvement in each of his starts since missing the first five months of the season with a nerve issue in his shoulder.
But if the Cardinals can win Friday in Atlanta, the 2005 NL Cy Young award winner will have the chance to get at least one more start. The Cardinals clinched the second wild card spot late Tuesday night by virtue of the Dodgers loss to San Francisco.
"My stuff is good enough to go out and get outs," Carpenter said. "Obviously I've done it. The consistency as the game goes along has to get better and it happened in Houston and it happened here. I just have to get better as the game goes along, and it has. That's something for me to build off of again. I hope I get another shot."
Carpenter looked like his vintage self in the first five innings. A Scott Rolen solo home run in the fourth inning was all Cincinnati could muster as the game went into the sixth tied at 1.
But a leadoff walk to Joey Votto and consecutive hits by Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce put the Reds up 2-1. After a strikeout of Rolen, catcher Dioner Navarro lined a single up the middle to give the Reds a two-run cushion. Carpenter got out of the inning without any further damage, finishing with 90 pitches.
"It was better again, especially early on," Carpenter said. "I felt like my command and my sharpness of my stuff was better than it was the first two times out which was good. I made some bad pitches in that one inning to give up the two runs, Scott (Rolen) hit a first pitch cutter that didn't go where I wanted it, but it is what it is. I felt like I did the best I could.
"I did everything I could to continue to execute and make pitches and keep my team in the game. Unfortunately that inning got away from me and some of the pitches got over the plate and they hit them. That's what's going to happen. I've got to do a better job."
Carpenter has continued to look better in each of his three outings. He allowed two earned runs in five innings on a rainy, cool day in Chicago in his first start of the season on Sept. 21 and then two earned runs in six innings on Sept. 26 in Houston.
He's allowed seven earned runs in 17 innings, good for a 3.71 ERA. He's allowed 16 hits and seven walks and has 12 strikeouts. Carpenter hit 94 miles-per-hour on the gun at times Tuesday, his highest since returning
The numbers don't scream dominant, but Carpenter knows he's getting better. And he knows what could happen should he get a chance to pitch again.
"I'm not concerned about my velocity," Carpenter said. "I'm concerned with how I feel and the sharpness of my stuff. If I'm throwing 90 miles-per-hour and my stuff is sharp and my command is good, I'm not concerned about it.
"I've said all along, this is my third spring training start in a key situation. I'm not concerned about that. I'm concerned about my stuff and the sharpness of it and today it was better than the last time so hopefully I'll have another shot."
The Cardinals hope he does too.