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VOL. 133 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 15, 2018

Carpenter Talks Strikeouts, Coaching and the State of Baseball

By Don Wade

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Of all the starting pitchers that followed Bob Gibson to the mound in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, perhaps none came as close to matching Gibson’s fierceness as Chris Carpenter did. In nine seasons with the Cardinals, he won a Cy Young Award, a franchise-high 10 playoff games, and was part of two World series-winning teams (2006 and 2011) and four National League pennant-winning clubs.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander made three All-Star teams with the Cardinals and went 21-5 with a league-leading seven complete games in 2005 when he captured the NL’s Cy Young Award. Including his six seasons with Toronto, he went 144-94 over his career with a 3.76 earned run average.

Impressive numbers, yes, but his footprint was so much larger than that created by statistics and awards. In 2013 when Carpenter could not come back from a nerve injury and retired, then-GM and current president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said: “He really created a culture of higher expectations for the organization. For him to be part of that era was something that made us all better.”

Former St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, shown here making a rehab start for Double-A Springfield in 2013, is now a special assistant for the Cardinals and traveling the farm system to share his pitching knowledge. Carpenter, who won a Cy Young Award with the Cardinals, recently visited Memphis and sat down with The Daily News to discuss the state of baseball and his new role. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

This year Carpenter, who is a member of the club’s Hall of Fame, returned to duty with the Cardinals as a special assistant to Mozeliak. He was an instructor during spring training and is now dropping in the various farm clubs, including the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, to lend an extra pair of eyes to the development of the young pitchers.

Carpenter was recently in town and sat down for an interview with The Daily News at AutoZone Park about his new role and his thoughts on the state of the game in 2018.

The Daily News: There is so much emphasis in today’s game on pitchers striking people out, yet it leads to early high pitch counts, maybe puts arms at risk. What’s your message to young pitchers and going for the strikeout?

Carpenter: I wasn’t a big strikeout guy. If you go out there and try to strike guys out, you’re probably not going to be real successful over a long period of time. I do know if I have 110 pitches as a starter, if I go out and execute, I’m going to get myself in some counts where I can get some swings and misses. The strikeouts are gonna come naturally.

TDN: So efficiency matters.

Carpenter: I’d much rather go nine and throw 110 (pitches) and not give up any runs than to go four innings, punch out 10, and give up five runs.

TDN: But today a lot of starters seem to settle – be it consciously or subconsciously – for blowing it out for a just a few innings, racking up as many strikeouts as they can, and then turning it over to the bullpen because they know a bunch of guys throwing 95 and points north are walking out that door behind them. What do you make of that mindset?

Carpenter: I hope that’s not what you’re thinking (he laughs) because what I’m thinking is I don’t want anybody coming out of the door behind me. I wanted to finish the game myself when I got the ball. If you’re looking for other people to get your outs for you, then you’re not going to be successful for too long.

TDN: How much did you care about your velo?

Carpenter: I didn’t care. Whether it was 91 or 94 didn’t matter to me. Now if I throw 100 I can get away with more mistakes than guys that throw 90 miles an hour. That’s just a fact. So is it nice to throw 100? Absolutely. But again, if you don’t execute they’re gonna hit you. I don’t care how hard you throw. If you’re in the middle of the plate with a good fastball and you don’t have anything else, they’re gonna get you.

TDN: In terms of the overall state of the game, there is an emphasis on quickening the pace of play. Commissioner Rob Manfred is big on this. We have the limited mound visits now. But there are more radical ideas out there. National baseball writer Buster Olney just wrote a column proposing each team be restricted to using four pitchers maximum in any nine-inning regular season game unless one team takes a lead of eight or more runs. What’s your take on the effort to speed up the game?

Carpenter: Let’s leave our good game alone. Let us enjoy it. Let it be a baseball game. That’s one of the greatest things about our game, everybody else had a clock and we didn’t.

You could go turn a radio on and listen to it for four hours while you’re mowing the lawn if you wanted to. Let’s leave it the way it is. Obviously you want to make it safer. And there’s ways to clean up certain things with the replays, but there’s a lot of people outside of the game that never played that are trying to make decisions and change things that don’t need to be changed.

TDN: In the NBA there is much more emphasis on superstar players. The narrative throughout the NBA Playoffs this year was whether LeBron James could carry on his team to the finals (he did) and then the title (he didn’t). The Golden State Warriors won a third title in four years and are deemed a “Super Team.” But baseball’s not like that, is it? One guy can’t put a team on his back for 162 games or even an entire postseason.

Carpenter: Again, it makes our game great. The 25th guy can be the one that wins the game for you. He can be the one that carries you for a week when somebody gets hurt. And then there’s so many amazing young players. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, the guys from Houston …

TDN: So the game has some things going for it, no doubt. But there’s a lot of angst right now, too. So let’s say you are made a commissioner for a day. You can unilaterally implement changes. What do you do?

Carpenter: I don’t want to be commissioner (laughs again).

TDN: C’mon, just for a day. Do whatever you want. Undo whatever you want.

Carpenter: OK, I’d move the shifts back. Just keep the dudes where they’re supposed to be playing. And I’d take away all that electronic strike zone crap they put up on TV and just let the umpires go back and ump.

TDN: You think that makes umpires defensive?

Carpenter: Wouldn’t you be? How do you know that box in the TV isn’t off a little bit?

TDN: What about instant replay, OK with that?

Carpenter: Seems like it’s every close play. No matter what, every play at first, every pick-off play, every double play where the play’s close at second, or if the guy’s on the bag or slides through it … the plays at the plate, home runs, you want to get those plays right so there’s room for it. But it just seems like you’re getting to the point where it’s every single close one.

TDN: What about the ball itself, because every so often we hear pitchers say it’s harder or slicker or the seams are different. Did you ever suspect anything was up with the baseball?

Carpenter: Does it matter? For real. What if the ball felt different in the seventh inning of my start? What am I going to do about? It’s the ball that comes out of the box. Give me the ball and I’ll throw it with what I got.

TDN: Are you having fun in this new life, coaching?

Carpenter: I enjoy talking with these kids and sharing my experiences from on and off the field. If there’s only guy I can help get to the big leagues, that’d be great. If there’s multiple, that’d be better. But I enjoy talking baseball with them.

TDN: Are they listening?

Carpenter: We have some really good guys in our organization that want to learn, listen and ask questions. Not that everything I say is correct, by any means. But it least it makes them think a little bit.

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