Red-hot Carpenter lifts Tigers over Guardians

Detroit Tigers

CLEVELAND — Kerry Carpenter can remember the game where his revamped swing locked in after a slow opening month. It was a road game against the Guardians’ Double-A affiliate.

“The last day of our series in Akron in May,” Carpenter recalled a couple of months ago. “That was the day where I told one of my friends, ‘I felt what I wanted to feel, and it’s going to be pretty special.’”

Carpenter hit his third home run of the week that day in the first game of a doubleheader. He went 9-for-20 with four doubles and three homers the next week, 10-for-25 with five homers the week after that, and took off from there. He didn’t really stop hitting until he made his Major League debut last week with back-to-back three-strikeout games against the Guardians in Detroit.

So maybe it makes sense that after an 0-for-10 start to his big league career, he might have found his swing against the Guardians on the road.

After hitting his first Major League home run against them Monday night, that same swing — that same feeling — seemed to return. After homering again Tuesday night, this time a two-run drive in a 4-3 win, he might be heating up once more.

After beginning his career 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts, Carpenter went 6-for-7 with two walks in his next nine plate appearances before taking a called third strike in the ninth. He didn’t just look like the hitter who tore through two levels of advanced Minor League pitching, vaulting a former 19th-round pick to the big leagues. He looked like the hitter the Tigers hoped could ignite their dormant offense.

“It’s just getting my timing back,” Carpenter said. “It was just off the first couple days for some reason. But once I felt it [Monday] night again, I felt getting [ready] early, on time and being able to control [the bat] so I can adjust to any pitch that they throw. It gives me the ability to swing at pitches I want to swing at, adjust to pitches. So when I’m right, it feels really good, and it felt really good again tonight.”

However long it lasts, the Tigers are going to ride the hot bat.

“It’s nice to see him put up some really good at-bats and settle in a little bit, and not be so nervous,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It cuts into the little boy in him that is still pinching himself that he’s in the big leagues and he’s facing guys that he was watching on TV a week ago. I’ll get him in there again [Wednesday] and continue to give him an opportunity to get hot like he is.”

Carpenter’s two-run home run Tuesday went out to nearly the same spot as his first big-league homer a night earlier. Instead of crushing a fastball while ahead in the count, he worked his way out of an 0-2 hole, shrugging off several breaking balls in the dirt and fouling off two changeups from Zach Plesac.

Again, Carpenter got a fastball around the top of the zone. Again, he crushed it. This one went farther, 429 feet to right-center over the Guardians’ bullpen. Not even the cavernous right-center field at Comerica Park would’ve held it in; the ball would’ve been a homer in all 30 big league parks according to Statcast.

Carpenter didn’t see a fastball his second at-bat, but saw the 0-1 slider from Plesac that he laced into right field for a single to put runners at the corners. With a runner on second and first base open in the fifth inning his next time up, Plesac threw him four pitches down and in for a two-out walk. Then in the seventh, he fouled off a couple of fastballs up and in to work another two-out walk.

That discipline, he said, is a byproduct of his timing feeling right.

“It definitely translates,” he said, “because I can pick the ball out of the hand quicker, so I don’t have to cheat to balls. Balls don’t look as hard. I can see spin out of the hand easier. So it all correlates.”

For the second straight night, it correlated to success. The Tigers won consecutive games for the first time since their six-game winning streak from July 4-8, a stretch that included a four-game series sweep of the Guardians at Comerica Park.

“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Carpenter said of the winning streak. “Let’s get another one tomorrow.”

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