‘Tough out’ Carpenter notches first multi-homer game

Detroit Tigers

SEATTLE — The Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park was on Monday. Kerry Carpenter wasn’t invited, so he saved his big swings here for a few days.

“I let the pitcher supply the power,” the Tigers outfielder said half-jokingly after the first multi-homer game of his Major League career Saturday night in a 6-0 victory over the Mariners.

It’s not just the power going for Carpenter these days. It’s the plan.

“He has a plan, he works it and he puts up a pretty good at-bat,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “And nights like tonight are obviously why we love him. He can do a lot of things. He can do a lot of things to do a lot of damage. But when he can hit multiple locations like he did tonight, he’s a tough out.”

As Carpenter rounded first base on his opposite-field homer leading off the second inning Saturday night, he was running hard enough that he lost his batting helmet. He knew he’d connected with George Kirby’s first-pitch sinker at the bottom of the zone well, but he didn’t know if he’d gotten enough to send it out. So as he rounded second base, his drive having cleared the left-field fence for the game’s first run, all that was on his head was his headband.

“I think that’s a huge part of my game when I’m going right, that I can use the opposite field for power,” Carpenter said.

By contrast, when he chased Kirby’s high fastball and clubbed it three innings later, everyone in the park knew it was gone. The 431-foot drive to right-center had all the majesty of a Derby highlight. The three runs that went with it put the Tigers in total control.

“When I’m on time, I feel like I can get to that,” Carpenter said. “I’ll take a chance at it once in a while.”

Add in his Friday drive to center off Luis Castillo, and Carpenter has homered three times in two games, and seven times in his 20 games since mid-June. He’s batting .308 (28-for-91) with seven homers and 19 RBIs since his return from a shoulder injury in early June. 

Carpenter is no stranger to hitting tears; that’s how he got here. He was in just his third week at Triple-A Toledo at this time a year ago, having ridden a swing change to a monster May at Double-A Erie to become an impact prospect. But whether he could hit in the big leagues was still a mystery, and remained so through much of his late-season stint last year.

What he has shown in recent weeks is different. Instead of hitting everything, he’s hitting his pitches, because he has shown a discipline to his game plan and an anticipation to recognize pitches.

“That’s what I work on in the cage every day is getting on time and getting my swing right,” Carpenter said. “Out there [on the field], it’s just swinging at the right pitches. That’s something I’m going to try to do in the second half.”

Said Hinch: “I think his pitch recognition has been good. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to swing at balls or not have a bad at-bat. I think the way he can recollect himself and not let things pile up on him is a great trait. And I see him becoming more and more confident with his plan.”

Add in this year’s numbers to last year’s late stint, and Carpenter has 17 home runs in his first 80 Major League games. Among Tigers, only Rudy York hit more homers in his first 80 games to begin his big league career, according to research on baseball-reference.com. York hit 30 in stints from 1934-37. Tony Clark also hit 17 over his first 80 games from 1995-96; Willie Horton (1963-65) and Lance Parrish (1977-78) hit 16 apiece.

Most of the discussion involving building a better Tigers offense has centered on adding pieces to complement the dynamic duo of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, with such young hitters as Matt Vierling and Akil Baddoo or prospects like Colt Keith, Justyn-Henry Malloy and Parker Meadows added in. What Carpenter has shown in the past month and a half begs the question whether that core duo is actually a trio, all part of the same lineup in Erie two summers ago.

Two were top-five overall picks. Carpenter was a 19th-rounder in 2019, but he’s hitting like a Derby contestant.

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