From a distance of 40 to 60 feet, Chris Carpenter took his first steps Thursday toward a return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.

Carpenter engaged in a light throwing session — his first since surgery July 19 — as he hopes to discover before season's end whether a return to the Cardinals' rotation in 2013 remains feasible. Carpenter acknowledged still experiencing some mild sensation from a procedure that included removal of the first rib on his right side. He declined to offer any schedule, probably because any timetable depends on how he feels.

"It's exciting to throw again," Carpenter said. "But also you want to find out what's going on and make sure we're doing the right things. We're not going to go crazy. We're going to make sure we take the steps the right way. It's going based on how I feel. It's only been a month, so there is still some healing going on in there. But it's healed enough to toss a little bit."

Carpenter's status is a huge variable within the Cardinals' offseason planning. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook are potential free agents, and the club must also weigh the candidacy of young starting pitchers Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller for next season's rotation. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia are under contract through next year.