ST. LOUIS — Chris Carpenter began his offseason throwing program the first week of December, a month ahead of schedule.
"I got a little anxious and started throwing earlier than I typically do," Carpenter said Saturday at the St. Louis Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up. "I was a little anxious about the way I was going to feel and if I was going to continue to feel well.
"When you go through all the stuff I've gone through, there's always that doubt in your mind when you pick up the ball, what it's going to feel like. So far, it's felt good."
Carpenter, 37, is certain that the effects of his thoracic outlet syndrome are in the past. He had surgery July 19 but was able to return in September and made six starts --three in the regular season, three in the postseason. He was 0-2 in the regular season and 1-2 in the postseason.
"I was excited about the way I felt last year," Carpenter said. "I definitely felt like I needed to get some arm strength back and it wasn't there. But I've been working hard this winter and I'm excited to go down (to spring training) and start from the beginning --especially with the talent we have this year."
Carpenter won't second-guess his decision to return last year even though the surgery was considered season-ending.
"It definitely was a push, but I'm not going to make any excuses if I was ready or not," he said. "I won't take the ball unless I feel I'm ready. I was able to take the ball, I was ready to take the ball and I wanted to take the ball. It just didn't work out."
Being able to return last season didn't necessarily ease Carpenter's mind. More than anyone, he's aware of his injury history.
"At this stage of my career and where I'm at, my mind's never at ease about physical issues and what's going on," Carpenter said. "I'm going to be 38 in April. I feel good and I feel healthy, but I felt like that coming into last year, too, and it didn't work out.
"I look for the positive signs. I know I feel good, I know my throwing's going well and I know my shoulder's strong through exercise and throwing. I'm not having any issues, so I'm treating it just like anything else and I'm looking forward to getting down (to Jupiter, Fla.) and getting going."
Carpenter isn't thinking beyond 2013. He's in the final season of a two-year contract extension he signed in 2011.
"It's definitely physical," Carpenter said. "If I have more health issues, I'm not going to continue to try to battle through. But if I'm healthy and I feel good at the end of the season, and I'm fortunate enough to have a job, I'll sit down and talk to my wife and kids and see what they want to do."
The Cardinals have a handful of players who will require special attention from manager Mike Matheny in 2013.
Carpenter, shortstop Rafael Furcal (right elbow), right fielder Carlos Beltran (left knee) and pitcher Jaime Garcia (shoulder) all are coming off injuries that are reason for pause.
Left fielder Matt Holliday doesn't want to be on that list, even though he experienced back problems last season.
"I had some stiff days, but it wasn't that big a deal," said Holliday, who had 27 homers and 102 RBIs in a team-high 157 games.
"I'm never going to ask out (of the lineup)," he said. "If I can play, I'm going to play. If I'm not in the lineup, that's (Matheny's) decision. If I can play, I'm going to tell him I can play. You're not going to get me to say, 'Oh, yeah. I'll take a day here or there.' I want to play."
Holliday, who turned 33 on Tuesday, isn't sure which areas the Cardinals can make improvement. After all, they were one victory away from another World Series appearance. However, they finished nine games behind Cincinnati in the National League Central.
"We're here to win. We've been built to win," he said. "We've got a collection of talent that has the ability to win a World Series. We proved it two years ago and we almost got to the World Series last year. There's never any more sense of urgency or any less sense of urgency. There's urgency to win. When you're part of this organization, winning is part of the culture."
Garcia missed time last season with a rotator cuff strain and inflammation. He chose therapy over surgery and will be monitored closely in spring training.
The Cardinals have capable replacements for Garcia in Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly, but they hope Garcia can return to health. It is, however, a major question mark.
"His offseason was spent well," General Manager John Mozeliak said. "I do know he feels good about where he's at. But frankly, until you get on that bump and put game pressure on yourself, you're not going to know for sure. That's one of the things we're just going to have to wait and see on."
Garcia is throwing off flat ground and is attempting to treat the offseason like any other, but he knows that isn't the case.
"We'll see in April when we get going," he said. "So far, it's been good. I'm not nervous at all. I'm just working as hard as I can, doing everything that's in my control. We'll see."
Garcia wants to push the process along, but the Cardinals have nothing to gain from that situation.
"I'm going to do whatever they think is good," Garcia said. "I'll be ready to go. All I'm doing is working as hard as I can and believe me, I'm doing everything I can possibly do every single day to be ready to go. If they want me to go normal or they want me to take it easy, that's going to be their decision. All I can do is what I can control."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.