Proven playoff pitcher takes mound vs. Nats

A year ago, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter was leading his team to its second World Series title in six seasons. He had no idea that Game 7 against the Texas Rangers would be his last for almost 11 months.

Carpenter fought weakness in his right shoulder during spring training and eventually was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, where compressed nerves lead to pain and numbness in the arm. It was thought Carpenter would not return at all this season after he elected for surgery in July.

Instead, a remarkable recovery has one of the sport's best postseason pitchers ready to start Game 3 of a National League Division Series against the Nationals on Wednesday. It was not where Carpenter, 37, expected to be three months ago. But a pitcher who has returned from both a torn labrum (2003) and Tommy John (2007) surgery has been here before.

"With all of these injuries and everything that's gone on in my career -- I don't know. I wasn't ready to stop playing," Carpenter said. "I'm still not ready to stop playing. I enjoy the competition. I love going out and competing against the best in the world. And I know that someday it will end, but hopefully it won't end too soon."

Carpenter made three starts at the end of the regular season once the Cardinals' medical staff deemed him ready to return. He has a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings, but the Nats are well aware that Carpenter had a 3.25 ERA in six starts last postseason and helped St. Louis to a World Series title, including a stunning 1-0 complete-game masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS against Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies.

"[Carpenter is] a guy that gets ahead, can throw any pitch in any count, and he's been there," Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "We don't expect him to go out there and panic and start walking guys. This is just another game for him. Whether the time off has hurt him or not I have no idea. He's got enough experience and kind of been there, done that. I'm sure he'll be fine."