ST. LOUIS -- Matt Carpenter has rarely worn batting gloves. He didn’t wear them as a kid, didn’t wear them in high school and has said before that he only remembers a few times he wore them at Texas Christian University when the weather got bad. Since he debuted with the Cardinals in 2011, he’s been a strict no-batting-gloves player.
Could that change in 2021?
“Well, I’ve taken a totally different approach to the batting gloves deal,” Carpenter told Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin during a virtual Winter Warm-Up session. “I’m not saying I’m gonna wear them all the time, but I do have them. And historically, I’ve been kind of a slow starter in the cold weather. Don’t be surprised if you see me taking at-bats this year in some batting gloves. That’s the first time I’ve said that publicly, too.”
The session was called “On the Ranch with Matt Carpenter,” and it was part of the final day of Winter Warm-Up, the annual fanfest that was moved online this year. Carpenter checked in from his ranch in Glen Rose, Texas, and showed McLaughlin his workout facility and jersey collection. But the two talked baseball, too, and Carpenter’s expectations for 2021 after two disappointing offensive seasons from the 35-year-old.
“For me, personally, I want to get back to the player I know I’m capable of being and the hitter that I know I’m capable of being,” Carpenter said. “It’s been a struggle for me offensively for the last two seasons. I don’t think last season was a great representation of that, or a fair representation. I really felt like I was going to have a good year, and with COVID, it was cut short. And then, with our personal team outbreak, it was cut even shorter. But it is what it is. There’s not excuses to be made. I gotta be better, and I plan on being better in 2021.”
Carpenter hit .226 in 2019 and then .186 in the 58-game season of 2020, and his OPS has consistently dropped since an .897 mark in 2018, as he posted a .726 OPS in ’19 and a .640 OPS this past season. There’s no question that Carpenter and his career are on the clock. He’s unlikely to have enough plate appearances to vest his option for 2022, so ’21 could be the final year of his contract. The third baseman wants to prove to himself, the Cardinals and the fans that he can still be the productive player the Cards signed to an extension at the beginning of 2019. As of now -- with a month to go before Spring Training begins -- Carpenter is viewed as the starting third baseman, at least to open the season.
To get ready for that, he’s switched up his offseason training. The past few years, he’s trained at his ranch with different strategies -- last year was focused on adding muscle -- but this winter, he’s changed the location. Every Monday through Friday, he’s driving over two hours roundtrip to work out for three hours a day at APEC Sports Complex in Fort Worth with other big leaguers.
“I’ve been very disappointed in my own performance for the last two seasons, so I felt like I needed to shake it up,” Carpenter said Monday. “We do all kinds of baseball rotational lifts and things that develop bat speed and strength. And I feel physically great. It’s been a commitment from a traveling standpoint and leaving my kids basically six hours a day with the drive. But I think it’s going to pay off a big dividend.”
A focus for Carpenter at the complex is explosive movements to increase bat speed.
“Everything’s as fast as you can go,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s really good for guys like myself. As you get older, any time you can shock your system and go about your training in a different way, I think it’s good for you. So for me, I think this has been a huge offseason from that standpoint. This is going about it in a totally different way, a totally different fashion, and I really do feel the difference. I feel good and looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”
It’s where the batting gloves have made their debut. Carpenter said he’s been experimenting with them, especially to wear during cold-weather games early in the season. That’s notable, given that Carpenter has always been one of the few players in the Majors to not don gloves.
“It’s definitely different," he said. "I’m not used to it, but I’m working with it now. And the sole purpose is for those cold games at Wrigley Field early in the season, at Busch Stadium. If it gives me a better chance to be successful and help our team, I’m going to try it.”
A lineup full of pitchers
A constant topic throughout baseball this offseason has been whether the designated hitter will be back in the National League for 2021 after seeing it for the first time in 2020 -- which is why a virtual session about starting pitching at the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-Up devolved briefly into what a lineup of Cards pitchers would look like.
After pitching coach Mike Maddux told MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger that he’s a purist and loves to see his pitchers hit, Amsinger asked Maddux to construct a lineup with the pitchers on the panel -- Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, John Gant, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Jake Woodford.
Maddux didn’t miss a beat.
“Well, Dakota’s leading off,” Maddux said. “He’s my leadoff man. You gotta take a strike, work the count, because he takes the same swing 0-2 or 2-0. So the count doesn’t impact him. I’ll have him sit back and see as many pitches as he can, try to wear them down. Now Woody, he handles the baton really well, so he’s kind of a two-hole guy because you can hit and run with him, you can bunt with him, you can do a lot of things. Very good at slashing.
“Now I gotta go left-handed, so Gomber. They say you have to put your best hitter third. With Dakota on second, you’ll have to play him straight up and let Gomber feather the right side of the field, just wear them out there. Captain Jack, he’s in the four hole. And then we got Ponce in the five, because now that you’ve gotten through three or four, you can’t take a breather here or he’s going to bite you in the tail. And then you got Johnny Gant hanging in the weeds. Throw a sinker down and in, right in his hot spot, they’re going to overlook him. So I think it’s 4-0 already.”
The lineup was met with laughs and some surprise at Hudson leading off, but ultimately was signed off by the panel.
“I’m not mad about it,” Flaherty said. “I’ve got that protection for you, Gomber.”