The hit machine
In his first full season as an outfielder, Mesa's Carpenter swinging a hot bat
Colorado Mesa baseball coach Chris Hanks was asked why he hadn’t played Garrett Carpenter in the field and let him bat prior to this season.
It was a fair question.
Carpenter is on a 21-game hit streak and leads the team in batting with a .441 average, which is seventh best in the nation for NCAA Division II.
“I’m just trying to help my team win ball games,” Carpenter said of the hit streak. “If the hit streak continues, then that’s fine, but if it goes away and we keep winning, I’m fine with that.
“It always helps having a little luck on your side.”
Joe Dirnberger holds the Mesa hit-streak record with 31 consecutive games, set over the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Up until this season, Carpenter had only pitched for the Mavericks. Hanks said it was Carpenter’s choice to move to the outfield.
“I always thought he had great hands,” Hanks said of Carpenter’s hitting. “He has a good approach and is patient. He has quick hands and generates bat speed.
“His feel for the game is his biggest asset. He has a good feel in the field and around the bases.”
Carpenter came to Mesa as an outfielder and pitcher. He did both in the fall of his freshman year of 2008-09.
“He didn’t hit great that fall,” Hanks said. “At the end of the fall, he told me he just wanted to pitch. I think he saw pitching as his best opportunity to play.”
Carpenter said he felt he could help the Mavericks more on the mound.
“I shied away from (hitting),” Carpenter said. “I thought I had a future in pitching. I just wanted to help my team win ball games.”
Carpenter pitched in nine games that spring, including one start. He pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief in a Central Region game against New Mexico Highlands for his first collegiate victory, a win that helped the Mavericks make their first Division II World Series appearance.
That summer, Carpenter was selected as the top pitcher in the NBC World Series. He allowed eight hits, no walks and struck out 23 batters in 18 innings, but he injured his right elbow.
Carpenter didn’t think much of it and returned to Mesa. He pitched in two games in 2010 when the injured elbow flared up. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament and needed Tommy John surgery.
He returned last year and slowly worked his way back into action. He was 6-4 with a 5.26 ERA. He had 65 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings in 14 appearances, all starts.
“With my surgery, I feel a lot stronger,” Carpenter said. “I’m able throw more the next day than I used to be.”
Despite his arm strength returning and his past success on the mound, Carpenter got the itch to hit again.
“I thought I’d give it a chance ... fall in love with baseball again,” Carpenter said. “Playing every day always helps.
“My dad always thought I was a pretty good hitter. I listened to him and decided to give it a chance.”
Hanks accommodated Carpenter’s request, giving him some reps in the outfield and at the plate.
This spring, Carpenter started in left field, but has moved to center field and is hitting second in the lineup.
He’s not only getting hits, he’s getting them in important at-bats. Carpenter is hitting .510 with runners on base and .464 with two outs. He is 21 of 39 (.538) with RBI opportunities. He has seven doubles and 24 RBI.
“I didn’t know it would go quite like this,” Carpenter said. “It’s pretty fun right now. I’ve got to keep practicing and squaring up balls right now.”
Carpenter didn’t think he’d play much in the outfield, much less have this kind of success.
“I didn’t really make too many goals for hitting,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t think I’d get too much playing time. I got the shot, and it’s been going good so far. I just want to help my team win ball games.”
Carpenter’s hit streak was in danger two weeks ago when he was hit by a pitch on his right hand. One of his fingers was tender the next day, so Hanks sat Carpenter out the rest of the series. He remained out until the final game of the series last weekend against Colorado Christian. He was 1 for 4 with one RBI and two stolen bases.
He missed six games during the hit streak.
Hanks said Carpenter likely will play this weekend, but probably not every game because his hand is still sore.
“We want to be smart,” Hanks said. “We have a couple weeks to stay off it. The hard part is he’s a competitor that wants to play, but when you’re dealing with competitors that want to play, quite frankly, they aren’t the most honest.”
Fellow pitcher Nolan Snell joked that all pitchers can hit like Carpenter, then said Carpenter has taken the right approach in the batter’s box.
“What Carp does at the plate, he just keeps things really simple,” Snell said. “A lot of pitchers will go up there to hit and think too much. I don’t think Carp does that at all. Honest, I think he goes up there looking for his pitch, and he hits it. He knows what he can handle. He doesn’t try to do too much.
“He comes up with a swinging-at-strikes approach. He doesn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches. He’s aggressive. He hits pitches early in counts, and if he doesn’t, he draws a lot of walks, too. He keeps it really simple and doesn’t try to do too much.”
Carpenter credits hard work and technology for his success.
“It was just putting in the work, the hours, before practice and after practice,” Carpenter said. “Listening to the coaches and see what they’ve got to say about hitting. Skip (Hanks) got a new computer system. I’ve been watching big-league hitters, how they approach it.
“You can see your swing compared to a big-leaguers, so you can find out the little mistakes. It always helps when you can see yourself on video to make yourself better.”
Carpenter continues to pitch this season, but in a much different role. The former starter is now the team’s closer.
He is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA and five saves. Carpenter has allowed three runs on 14 hits with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 9 2/3 innings of work.
“The timing has worked well,” Hanks said. “We could still start him on the mound. He’s become very valuable as a position player.”