Even Matt Carpenter isn’t sure where he best fits in the St. Louis Cardinals batting order.
“I’ve had three full seasons as a starter, and I feel like I’ve been different each year,” Carpenter said Saturday at the 20th annual Winter Warm-Up. “I feel like there are pieces of each season I would like to morph into one complete year. If I had a goal for 2016, that would be what it would be. Every year that I’ve had here in St. Louis, maybe have bits and pieces of that.”
Carpenter, 30, is ingrained as the Cardinals’ third baseman. His spot in the order, however, remains a topic of discussion. Were it not that there is no obvious candidate to replace Carpenter as the team’s lead-off hitter, he would be an option to hit second, third or perhaps in another RBI spot.
Carpenter led the power-hungry Cardinals in home runs in 2015 with 28, 11 more than Jhonny Peralta and Randal Grichuk. Carpenter topped the National League in doubles with 44 and scored 101 runs, which ranked fifth in the league. His on-base percentage was .365, high enough to bat at the top, but he struck out a career-high 151 times.
I think I’m just continuing to develop and figure out who I am as a hitter. Last year was a big step forward in finding out I have some untapped power in there that I didn’t necessarily realize I had. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter
Trying to capitalize on Carpenter’s newly discovered long-ball skills, the Cardinals used him in the No. 2 spot from late April until late July, but he batted .225 and went back to the top. Carpenter battled what the team described as “extreme fatigue” in early May after a grueling series against Pittsburgh.
“I think I’m just continuing to develop and figure out who I am as a hitter,” Carpenter said. “Last year was a big step forward in finding out I have some untapped power in there that I didn’t necessarily realize I had. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Sticking with what works
Carpenter clearly enjoys his role as a table-setter, yet he continues to insist that he won’t overhaul an approach that has worked in the past.
“I’ve said this every year, and I say it because I mean it,” Carpenter said. “I’ll hit wherever Mike (Matheny) puts me. I know my approach as a hitter is not going to change no matter where I hit. I’m going to take the same at-bat if I were hitting three, one or nine.
“That’s just who I am. That’s never going to change. And as far as where that ends up and how that plays out, time will tell. I’m comfortable going in any place in the lineup.”
Carpenter’s foundation is patience.
“If there are two things I know I can do consistently, it’s get on base and see a lot of pitches,” he said. “That’s the backbone of who I am as a hitter. As far as (whether) I’m a guy who is going to be a consistent power hitter, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. But I think I’ve shown that ability. I’m going to try to put it all together this year, and hopefully I’m able to do that.”
Carpenter said the 28 home runs represented a trip into “uncharted territory.”
“I have never gone through anything like that, that power display,” Carpenter said. “It’s in there and now it’s a matter of making it consistent.”
Carpenter has not had a conversation about his landing spot in the order.
“I know they’re confident in me and they know that I’ll go wherever they tell me,” Carpenter said. “I truthfully will always be the kind of guy who will do what’s best for the team. If that’s making a change, great. If it’s staying with what I’ve been doing, great. But no, there have been no conversations. I’m willing to do whatever.
“There’s no place in the lineup I’m going to feel more comfortable in (than another). I’m suited well for the leadoff role. I’ve always said that. I think who I am as a hitter suits very well as a leadoff hitter. And for the group of guys we had last year and in the past, it was best suited for me to be there. But that being said, it’s certainly not going to change me, and I can move anywhere else.”
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak prefers to watch spring training before determining where Carpenter will settle. It’s January, and any talk about that at this point is premature.
“It’s sort of awkward to talk about lineup right now, given that we still have spring training to go through,” Mozeliak said. “I think Mike is open to looking at how to get the most out of it. He’s not fixed on any one thing going into it. I do think that looking at what Carpenter was able to do in the lead-off spot, you take him out, where does he go? Who hits there? I think we have options, but ultimately it will come down to where people are comfortable hitting from.”
Carpenter said a discussion about where he bats isn’t even necessary. He will suit up and produce in whatever spot Matheny deems appropriate.
I do think that looking at what Carpenter was able to do in the leadoff spot, you take him out, where does he go? Who hits there? I think we have options, but ultimately it will come down to where people are comfortable hitting from.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak
“If Mike calls me tomorrow and says, ‘Hey you’re going to bat in the three-hole tomorrow, it’s not going to affect what I do as a hitter,” Carpenter said. “It’s not like I have to go practice hitting as a three-hole hitter. There is nothing I’m going to change. If that’s something that they decide, I’ll be ready for it.”
Carpenter said his poor performance in the No. 2 spot last year had nothing to do with being uncomfortable. It started with a bang as Carpenter opened 7-for-21, but he batted .269 in May, .190 in June and .224 in July before rebounding to .284 over the final two months.
“I’ve been told that part of what happened last year was because I moved into the two-hole,” Carpenter said. “That had nothing to do with it. When I first moved into the spot, I was hitting really well and I got where I was at physically and it went downhill from there.”
No need for concern
Carpenter, noted for being an intense worker, will not alter his regimen to avoid another bout with fatigue.
“Looking back on it, I think I was just wearing down and maybe fighting off some flu bug,” he said. “Who knows what it could have been. I’m just glad to be past it. I’m continually doing the things I normally do to get ready.”
He does plan to pay closer attention to any possible warning signs.
“Making sure you’re hydrated. Making sure you have enough food in you. Making sure of all that good stuff. Just listening to your body and not running yourself into the ground,” Carpenter said. “I think that’s the key to this.”