As important as Chris Carpenter is to the Cardinals, even the hint that he's closer to returning is a huge deal.
This is more than a hint.
Carpenter threw live batting practice Friday afternoon in Kansas City, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. It was just 34 pitches, but it was Carpenter's first live batting practice session since March 18.
Carpenter has been out with what the Cardinals said was a nerve condition that caused weakness in his right shoulder. The team suggested in March that there was optimism he could return by June, but that's obviously gone now.
Strauss said that Carpenter will likely throw batting practice two more times before even beginning a rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues.
As Tony La Russa was fond of saying, the Cardinals basically have always been a playoff team in years where Carpenter was healthy, and have missed the playoffs in years when he's been missing.
The Cardinals are just four games out of first place in the National League Central. They have survived Carpenter's absence in large part because Lance Lynn, who replaced him in the rotation, has pitched so well.
Even so, a Carpenter return could be a huge boost after the All-Star break.
The Cardinals also activated Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter from the disabled list Friday.