Carpenter hits 'challenging period' at plate

Cards veteran bunts against shift for 1st hit as offense struggles vs. Nats

April 13th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- had been trying to hit the baseball as hard as he could for weeks. It’s usually a solid plan of attack.

Turns out he just needed to do the opposite.

The Cardinals veteran threw the proverbial monkey off his back in a cheeky way amid Monday night’s 5-2 loss to the Nationals at Busch Stadium, laying down a bunt against the shift in the third inning to break a hitless start across nine games to open the season.

“I'm glad to get one on the board,” Carpenter said. “You know, sometimes, that first one is the hardest one.”

The positive omen for the 35-year-old was not enough to pick up an otherwise inauspicious day for the Cardinals, who mustered just six hits off Nats pitchers and saw several other bunting endeavors fall by the wayside.

For one, it was starting pitcher John Gant laying down a pair of sacrifice bunts, in the third and fifth innings. Though successful, that second one maybe shouldn’t have happened.

In a tie ballgame, manager Mike Shildt elected to have Gant hit with one out and runners on first and second; Génesis Cabrera was already warmed to get the sixth. Knowing the bullpen had been taxed in the early goings and with Gant sitting at a rather low pitch count -- with success -- Shildt stuck with the starter. Tommy Edman then grounded out to strand the pair of advanced runners, and Gant failed to record an out when he went back out for the sixth.

“Those are the reasons. Can’t say they were the right reasons,” Shildt said. “I got to own it, didn’t feel like that was the best decision I made, and I got to be accountable for it.”

For Carpenter, though, it was a first step back to trying to become the offensive player the club hopes and believes he still can be. Despite a rather small sample at the outset of the regular season, Carpenter laced just two hits in 37 Spring Training at-bats. Relegated to a bench role to start the season, he’s needed to get himself back in hitting shape on the fly.

Raw numbers early this year have been positive. Of the seven balls he put into play entering Monday, five were considered hard-hit (95-plus mph), and several would have landed as homers had they been hit in different ballparks.

It was on the anomaly -- a bunt against the shift with a 44.9-mph exit velocity -- that finally put a crooked number in the hits category.

“I got to that 3-1 count, [the third baseman] backed all the way up into natural shortstop position,” Carpenter recalled. “And I told myself that now's a good time to take it. And so I took it.”

“For Carp, we feel that Murphy's Law is gonna get on his side here at some point,” Shildt said.

As he hit first base, hordes of cheers came from the Cardinals’ dugout and the 12,894 in attendance. Carpenter -- a former MVP Award candidate, three-time All-Star and one-time Silver Slugger Award winner -- is used to cold spurts. But it doesn’t make the mental battle any easier.

“This game can be pretty challenging at times,” he said. “I'm going through a challenging period, but I also totally get that we're in a results business. …

“Obviously, this hasn't been fun, and I'm not enjoying it, but I feel like I've done a decent enough job mentally to kind of stay where I needed to stay.”

Carpenter wasn’t the only one with the slump-breaking hit. Whereas Nos. 2-5 in the lineup -- Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Yadier Molina and Dylan Carlson -- combined to go 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts, Paul DeJong came through in the seventh inning, hammering a single 100.1 mph to break an 0-for-26 skid.

The pair provided shades of positivity on an otherwise dreary night for St. Louis, which fell back to .500 and the owner of a three-game losing streak.

The modestly positive signs began on Monday. The Cardinals hope that it continues on Tuesday.

One hit is a start.

“I know people were clamoring for it,” Shildt said. “They got it.”