Matt Carpenter will not play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic because of a sore back. (Bill Greenblaatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Concern that tightness in his back could lead to a more serious injury and jeopardize his availability for the start of the regular season will keep Matt Carpenter from going to the World Baseball Classic.

“He wasn’t happy,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny before Saturday’s game. “The honor, the privilege, the experience … I know it meant a lot to him. It’s disappointing.”

Carpenter was scheduled to leave camp on Monday to join Team USA for its workouts before opening the WBC next Friday in Miami.

“I waited until the last possible minute and hopefully avoided it but it just wasn’t a smart thing,” Carpenter said. “Kind of protecting myself from myself. It wouldn’t be fair to me or our team to go out there and put myself in a risky situation.”

Carpenter said it was entirely his decision, but obviously he was also relying on feedback from the Cardinals’ medical staff.

“They (the Cardinals) were fully supportive of me going,” he said. “I came to them last night and made the decision on my own. They’re obviously happy I did that but they certainly weren’t involved in the decision at all.”

Carpenter said he talked to Joe Torre, the GM of Team USA, and Jim Leyland, the manager, with the hope that he could possibly be added to the roster for the second round if the U.S. advanced but found out that rule only exists for pitchers.

The problem with Carpenter’s back first surfaced on Thursday when he was scratched from the lineup because of what was described as “tightness” in his lower back.

Carpenter had hoped a couple of days of rest and treatment would alleviate the problem, but he decided after trying to swing the bat on Friday that it would be best to skip the tournament.

“Yesterday (Friday) I went through normal hitting,” Carpenter said. “The way I told them, if this was the regular season or postseason I could play. But I don’t want to play at an 80 percent level when I don’t have to. There’s nothing saying I need to be ready for the season right now. and for me to jump into this and put myself in a tough situation by trying to ramp it up before the Classic just wasn’t a smart idea.”

Carpenter has dealt with back issues in the past, and his biggest concern about this latest episode was that he might aggravate it and that it could lead to problems in his oblique. An oblique injury sidelined him for a month last year, forcing him to miss the All-Star game.

“It’s going to be a little while,” Matheny said. “He wants to be sure he is on top of this.”

Carpenter took part in some defensive drills and ran sprints on Saturday but it is swinging the bat which concerns him the most. He said he was not going to swing this weekend and expects he won’t play in a game until next Friday.

Carpenter had been expected to be a utility player for Team USA, with his career experience at first, second and third base. He had been hoping to lean on Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt for some tips about playing first base during their time together on the U.S. team.

The Pirates’ Josh Harrison was named as the replacement for Carpenter.

Four players will leave the Cardinals’ camp this weekend to join their various teams for the WBC – Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Trey Nielsen (Italy) and Rowan Wick (Canada). Already working with their teams are Seung Hwan Oh (Korea) and Corey Baker (Israel).

This would have been the first time, at any level, that Carpenter would have played for a team representing the United States.

“I’m super disappointed,” he said. “I’m at peace with it because I know it’s the right thing. I could have gone and played but the thought of — I’m in a situation now where I’m teetering on overdoing it. If I went out there…. I just know how I am. In a spring training situation, you can kind of control that but in a game like the World Baseball Classic situation, I had to protect myself from myself. I know I wouldn’t be able to take the baby steps I need to do leading up to the season. It just wasn’t smart.”

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