Detroit Tigers have had one positive: Kerry Carpenter looks, feels locked in at the plate

Detroit Free Press

TORONTO — Kerry Carpenter found it on Saturday at Comerica Park.

He worked a five-pitch walk in the sixth inning against Boston Red Sox reliever Zack Kelly, taking some nasty changeups for balls in the process, and realized his mechanics and approach were aligned for the first time in the calendar year. Four days later, Carpenter hit his first home run of the season in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I’m happy to be where I’m at swing-wise, approach-wise,” Carpenter said. “I already feel like I’ve taken a step forward from last year, especially with pitch selection, especially with three balls, especially when I’m ahead in the count. I haven’t been as aggressive to pitches that I shouldn’t be swinging at.”

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Carpenter, who hit 36 home runs at three levels last season, feels confident at the plate in his second season with the Detroit Tigers. The 25-year-old is hitting .214 with three doubles, one homer, four walks and nine strikeouts through nine games.

He walked six times in 31 games last season.

Facing Kelly on Saturday, Carpenter saw five pitches: changeup, changeup, four-seam fastball, changeup and sinker. He whiffed at the up-and-away fastball but didn’t swing at the two outside changeups to start the plate appearance. He also didn’t swing at the changeup and sinker below the strike zone.

“Those were easy, easy takes on good pitches,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter started in the series opener against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, a 9-3 loss. He hit two of the furthest balls in the game, both to straightaway center field: 404 feet (with a 103 mph exit velocity) in the second inning and 402 feet (with a 103.9 mph exit velocity) in the fifth inning.

Both balls in play resulted in outs.

Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier robbed Carpenter of a home run in the second inning.

“Those at-bats were really good for me, swinging at pitches I want to swing at,” said Carpenter, who drew a walk in the third inning. “Staying on the ball to center field is something I really like. I feel good, even though I had two loud outs and an 0-for-2 technically, but those are good at-bats for me. If I keep doing that this season, it’ll be a good season.”

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It’s almost like Carpenter called his shot.

Because the next day, Carpenter worked ahead in the count and crushed Kevin Gausman’s fourth-pitch fastball for a two-run home run in the seventh inning. The ball, impacted with a 102.5 mph exit velocity, traveled 397 feet to right-center field. The Tigers took a 3-1 lead before blowing the advantage in the ninth inning and losing in extra innings.

“I’m excited,” Carpenter said. “It’s starting to feel better. When I walked on Saturday, it was the first at-bat all year where it felt like it felt last year. First one that I was really locked in. He was a changeup, fastball guy. I was taking really good changeups. That’s the easiest I’ve taken good pitches all year.”

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Carpenter started in right field in Thursday’s 3-1 win in Toronto, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout and hit by pitch before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh.

His swing mechanics are anchored by a few phrases, specifically “launch quickness” and “ready at release.” Being ready to swing the bat when the pitcher releases the ball allows him to see the ball for a few moments longer, which helps him make better swing decisions.

His personal hitting coach, Richard Schenck, also trains Aaron Judge.

Judge, the reigning American League MVP, hit .62 home runs in 157 games last season while pacing the AL with 111 walks and 131 RBIs. He already has four homers in 12 games this season.

“It’s a feeling,” Carpenter said. “I have a set routine. I know when it was good last year and when it wasn’t, and I know how to get them because last year I had the routine before every game. I’m doing that routine, finding that spot in my back leg, and when I find it, it’s good.”

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In 2022, Carpenter hit .252 with six homers, six walks and 32 strikeouts in 31 games for the Tigers, following 35 games in Double-A Erie and 63 games in Triple-A Toledo. He ranked fourth among professional baseball players, both major leaguers and minor leaguers, with at least 120 games in slugging percentage (.610) and isolated power (.310).

Too many strikeouts could be a part of Carpenter’s profile forever, but boosting his walk total will help him stick around with the Tigers as president of baseball operations Scott Harris preaches plate discipline. The combination of walks and homers over a 162-game schedule will elevate him to an established player in the big leagues and a long-term piece for the organization.

Carpenter appears to be headed in the right direction.

“Making the team (out of spring training) and then hitting in the middle of the lineup,” Carpenter said. “Hitting in the middle of the lineup on this team shows that they trust me and like what I do. I’ll continue to try to build that trust with them.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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