A battle of contrasts: Tigers’ Carpenter, Baddoo taking roster duel to the wire

Detroit News

Tampa — Kerry Carpenter is on the roster bubble. He knows it. He and Akil Baddoo, both left-handed-hitting outfielders, are quite possibly fighting for one spot. And time is getting short. This is the last week of spring games.

Carpenter, though, who jumped from Double-A to the big leagues last season, hitting 30 minor-league home runs, sure doesn’t appear to be carrying any extra weight.

“I don’t think of it like that,” he said of the roster fight. “I’m just coming here and doing my job. And my job is to hit, whether it’s the first game of camp or the last. It’s the same.”

Carpenter led off the Tigers’ 6-3 loss to the Yankees Tuesday hitting an elevated 1-1 changeup from right-hander Luis Severino on a line over the wall in right field. It was his third home run of spring, all three against the Yankees and the second off Severino.

“Hey, I’ll take it,” he said. “I got one on his fastball and I got one on his changeup.”

If this truly is a one-on-one battle between Baddoo and Carpenter, it’s an intriguing contrast of playing styles. Carpenter is considered a below-average fielder with plus power. Baddoo brings more speed and athleticism, a better glove, better base-runner, but limited power.

“This is a horrible week for players,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s not fun when you’re on the bubble. It’s not fun when you’re uncertain whether you can settle in and prepare for a Major League season or whether you’re going to have a meeting with me and talk about a different outcome.

“But, they’ve handled it great. Everyone who is still in camp is aware of their situation. It’s kind of unspoken. But, they’re handling it good.”

The assessments are made on many levels and spring results are only a small part of the equation. But presently, Carpenter is slashing .293/.318/.610 with a .928 OPS. Baddoo, who is heating up after a slow start, is slashing .237/.293/.447 and a .740 OPS.

Both have relatively high strikeout rates and low walk rates — Carpenter 11 strikeouts, two walks; Baddoo, 12 and three.

“With Akil, we’d like to see competitive at-bats where he puts the ball in play more,” Hinch said. “There’s been a lot of punchouts. But, he’s pretty dynamic on the bases, and his defense has been really, really good. We’ve seen a lot of progress with that.”

Chasing pitches out of the strike zone has been Carpenter’s battle.

“That’s something I’ve worked on a lot,” he said. “I’m an aggressive hitter anyway and I think maybe some of the pitchers take advantage of that, especially at this level. But, I’m working on it and it’s been better. I was better today. I felt really good at the plate today.”

This battle is going to the wire, as uncomfortable as that might be for the players, and for the manager who gets asked about it day after day.

“I know it’s tough to not know what exactly we’re going to do for that,” Hinch said. “But, at the same time, we’ve got plenty of time.”

A maturing Bull

A couple of years ago, an outing like he had Tuesday might’ve gotten away from Spencer Turnbull, at least mentally.

As he graded it, he thought he had B-minus stuff in his 4.2 innings against the Yankees. Never mind that he gave up just one hit — a homer to Josh Donaldson — and got seven ground-ball outs, using an efficient 67 pitches.

“I felt really good about my mindset, my command and my pitch execution,” Turnbull said. “I still wouldn’t say I was super pleased with my stuff. It still doesn’t feel great. Just the ease of how the fastball is coming out, the power movement was a little down again.

“But, I could put the ball where I wanted to and there was enough movement to get it off the barrel. The swing-and-miss stuff wasn’t there.”

His slider was there, though it didn’t have the sharp movement he’s used to. He threw 26 of them. His sinker and four-seam fastballs topped out at 95 mph, but he wasn’t able to throttle up to 96-97 like he normally does.

“In the past, on a day when I didn’t have my good stuff, it would really affect me mentally,” he said. “I would struggle just to, like, pitch. I’d be so worried about how it’s not 96-97. It’s not coming out easy. I’m not getting a foot of cut. On days like that, I’d go searching for it more than just trying to pitch with what I had that day.”

That’s precisely what he did Tuesday. He pitched, and pitched effectively, with what he had.

“That’s just part of the maturation process and getting a little older,” Turnbull said. “More wisdom. It’s learning how to pitch and knowing I don’t always need my best stuff to get outs.”

Turnbull, who missed 19 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, will likely have one more start before the end of camp, whether it’s the final game of camp or against minor-league hitters on the back fields.

“It’s just about building stamina,” Turnbull said. “I’m still trying to get built up. It’ll get there. I haven’t thrown five innings in two years.”

Game bits

… Lefty Tyler Alexander, who has struggled this spring, struck out the side in the seventh inning and recorded four outs, allowing only a soft single. The slider has been a pitch he’s struggled with, but he had it working Tuesday. He threw 10 of them with an average velocity of 81 mph, 4 mph firmer than normal, and got two misses on three swings and two called strikes. “Sometimes, that pitch has been a work in progress and other times it’s been effective,” Hinch said. “Today was the latter. Sounds like it felt better, the execution was better, the counts were better and the results were better.”

… Right-hander Will Vest hadn’t pitched in a spring game since March 13. He’d been working through some mechanical issues on the back fields. His return to game action didn’t go well. He was tagged for five runs and five hits including a three-run homer by Josh Donaldson, his second of the game. Vest also balked and hit a batter.

… Right-hander Jose Cisnero also hadn’t pitched since March 13. He needed 24 pitches to get two outs in the bottom of the eighth. He was victimized by a wind-blown popup that fell in for a hit and extended his inning. His four-seam fastball and sinker sat at 95 mph and his changeup was a firm 89 mph. His slider was lively but he struggled to command it. Hinch said he pulled Cisnero at 24 pitches because he is scheduled to pitch again tomorrow on the back fields — simulating back-to-back outings.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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