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06/29/08 2:50 PM ET

Cardinals might use Carpenter in 'pen

Rehabbing starter progressing steadily after elbow surgery

KANSAS CITY -- The pace of Chris Carpenter's recovery from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow has the Cardinals now pondering an option they had previously dismissed. General manager John Mozeliak said Sunday that the possibility of Carpenter pitching in relief this season is now on the table.

"I think we have to consider that," Mozeliak said.

Carpenter underwent surgery in July of last year, approximately 11 1/2 months ago. He recently experienced a setback, though extensive consultations revealed he did not need additional surgery. He's currently on a throwing program at the Cardinals' complex in Florida, with a plan to face hitters approximately once a week.

"We ratcheted it down a little bit to where he has fewer pitches when he throws, and he has an extra day or two between throws," Mozeliak said. "We're just trying to manage how his arm feels, allow him an extra day or two of recovery and, at this point, I think that strategy is paying off. He seems to be feeling good about this. We're back to the level of optimism we once had, say, in March."

However, the slowed-down program means that there's almost no way to envision Carpenter on a rehabilitation assignment before approximately the beginning of August. So while the long-term projection may be sunnier than it's been in a good while, the short term is a bit hazy.

This pace brings up the possibility of bullpen work for Carpenter. Mozeliak pointed to a similar decision the club made in 2000, when Matt Morris pitched in relief in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Morris went on to have a career year in 2001, contending for a Cy Young Award.

"From my perspective, what his role will be this year is going to be left up to how he's feeling, what he's capable of doing and what makes the most sense for the organization and for Carp," Mozeliak said. "How we make our decision for him is going to be based on what's best for him, as well as what's best for the organization.

"He just needs to keep doing what he's doing and show that he's healthy. We'll then determine what we need to do as far as where we are with the Major League roster and what makes the most sense."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.