Carpenter homers in rainy win, adding to road success

Detroit Tigers

KANSAS CITY — Kerry Carpenter changed his swing last offseason looking to create more power. He stuck with it through a rough Spring Training and then a slow opening month at Double-A Erie before heating up there, then took it to Triple-A Toledo. Not even an 0-for-10, seven-strikeout stretch to open his big league career last month would lead the Tigers rookie and former 19th-round Draft pick to waver.

As he rounded the bases Saturday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, having crushed a Jonathan Heasley fastball 395 feet to right field for a no-doubt home run to ignite the Tigers’ offense towards an 8-4 win, he was enjoying the payoff for his persistence.

“It’s awesome,” Carpenter said. “You always want to see the hard work pay off. It’s really nice when it happens, and when it doesn’t, you just keep going and trust that it will at some point.”

The Tigers have won three consecutive games for the first time in two months, and they came within a couple runs of posting double digits in consecutive games for the first time since August 2020. They’re doing it with a lot of help from younger hitters, from Carpenter to Spencer Torkelson — who hit his first Major League triple Saturday in his second straight multi-hit performance — to Riley Greene and Ryan Kreidler.

“I’m seeing it well,” Carpenter said, “but hitting is contagious. We’ve all seen that growing up, and I really believe in that. It’s good to see all the other guys sticking to their approaches and executing them well. It gives us confidence to go out and do the same thing. And when we all do it, it tends to work out. It’s been fun the past couple days.”

Carpenter worked ahead in the count all three times he faced Heasley when they met last weekend in Detroit. On Saturday, he continued the trend and then some, jumping on a 3-0 fastball and sending it over the right-field fence. It came after Heasley retired Detroit’s first five batters and tied the game in the second inning after a Salvador Perez opening-inning RBI single off Matt Manning, who struck out four over 6 1/3 solid innings.

It also continued a strong trend for an emerging road warrior. Carpenter is 15-for-33 with four doubles, four home runs, seven RBIs, four walks and just three strikeouts on the road. At Comerica Park, he’s 4-for-34 with no walks and 14 strikeouts; his lone extra-base hit there, maybe fittingly, is a triple — not off the outfield walls, but past Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger.

“That’s just how the dice have rolled right now,” Carpenter laughed. “We’ll get it going at home.”

A slow start to his career didn’t help; he went 0-for-8 with six strikeouts at home against the Guardians before recording his first Major League hit against the White Sox in Chicago. Still, the contrast is impressive. Moreover, just two of his four homers would’ve left the yard at Comerica Park.

Carpenter’s recent road success, meanwhile, has also come with an improvement in his metrics. While he has crushed fastballs for much of his time in the big leagues, he has dropped his swing-and-miss rate against them from 24.2 percent in August to just 9.1 percent in September entering Saturday, according to Statcast. That was a question going into his call-up, whether he could handle big league velocity. His whiff rate against breaking pitches has also inched down, while his playing time has increased, even in lefty-lefty matchups.

“When I was not seeing the ball well, I was just getting going late,” Carpenter said. “I’m late on heaters and I’m jumping at offspeed because I’m picking it up late. When I was doing that, I really focused on exaggerating how early I was going to start so I can just read the pitch the whole time. I didn’t need to change my approach. I just needed to hone in on my timing.”

Manager A.J. Hinch said before Saturday’s game that he has been impressed with how Carpenter has maintained a consistent approach for such a young hitter. He steadfastly believes in his game plan, and he doesn’t panic against tough pitchers.

“I don’t think he ever had a lack of confidence, maybe the first week when he was trying to search for himself and see if he belonged here after a couple bad at-bats early,” Hinch said. “But he’s been pretty consistent on the field, in the clubhouse, around his work, his preparation. He’s pretty organized with what he does to get ready to play. The fact that he’s stayed with it is probably indicative of his confidence and that he knows that his process works.”

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