How a heart to heart with Carpenter led to Burleson's power surge

OF bashes 2 homers to help lead Cards to series win over Hicks, Giants

June 23rd, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- Back in April, when the Cardinals were about to start a three-game series in Queens against the Mets, veteran slugger Matt Carpenter pulled Alec Burleson aside at dinner for a pep talk that was heavy on blunt honesty and the young left-handed hitter’s feelings were hardly spared in the slightest.

Carpenter, the accomplished veteran of 14 MLB seasons who recorded his 2,000th total base with the Cardinals on Saturday with a single, told Burleson flat out that he was swinging at far too many pitches. He scolded him about slapping singles to the opposite field and taking too many defensive pokes at the ball. Carpenter, the owner of 177 career home runs and 529 career extra-base hits, stressed to Burleson that he should only be offering at pitches where he could, “do damage.”

Riding an almost ninth-month stretch without a home run going into that series against the Mets, Burleson hit a three-run homer on April 26 that totally changed his outlook at the plate. On Saturday, when Burleson hit two home runs in an MLB game for the first time and had a career-high five RBIs in the Cardinals’ 9-4 rout of the Giants, the 25-year-old blossoming slugger thought back to the sage advice Carpenter gave him and how it might have proved to be a turning point in his season and maybe his MLB career.

“Carp kind of said the same thing that the organization and the coaching staff had been saying -- do damage,” said Burleson, who tied his previous career high of eight home runs set in 2023 on June 4 and hit long balls No. 11 and 12 on Saturday. “My bat-to-ball skills with two strikes are pretty good, but it was different hearing [the hitting advice] from him. It was different hearing it from somebody who plays the game and has done it for a long time. It was nothing new, but it was different coming from a guy like that.”

Burleson’s two homers highlighted a day where the Cardinals tied a season high by mashing four long balls. Once down 3-0 and later 4-2, the Cards got back into the game with a two-run shot by Paul Goldschmidt (the 350th of his career), and they took their first lead of the game on Burleson’s 407-foot, three-run homer in the fourth inning.

The Goldschmidt homer and Burleson’s first long ball of the game came off former Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks, who was making his first trip back to Busch Stadium since being traded to the Blue Jays by St. Louis last July. In 99 career games at Busch Stadium prior to Saturday, Hicks had used his power sinker to limit foes to just seven homers. On Saturday, Hicks admitted to wilting under the 91-degree heat and getting beat by two of his old teammates.

“I would say my legs were pretty dead after the third,” Hicks said. “I could always see it when I was on the Cardinals, that the other pitchers looked like they were pretty dead out there [because of the heat]. You get them up to 20-30 pitches in an inning, that’s when we usually did our damage when I was with the Cardinals.

“It made sense in that [fourth] inning. I got two outs, and then [Dylan Carlson] goes down and gets a pitch, Masyn [Winn] puts a good swing on one and then a solid pitch, but Burleson puts a good swing on a fastball. … I got beat by the long ball today.”

Burleson, who hit 42 home runs over two Minor League seasons in 2021 and 2022, hit two home runs in April and three in May, but he has come alive as a power hitter in June by mashing seven long balls. He hit home runs on three consecutive days from June 2-4 and has become one of the most productive hitters in the middle of a Cardinals lineup that also includes Nolan Arenado and Goldschmidt. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol likes how Burleson balances his improved power numbers with a carefree energy that is infectious in the clubhouse.

“Even in the clubhouse, he’s a little bit of a goof in a good way,” Marmol joked. “He keeps it light and he doesn’t take himself too serious. And he plays that way. He’ll get frustrated from time to time but he plays the game with that enthusiasm. It rubs off on other guys.”

The Cards are hopeful that Burleson’s power surge -- one that started following a heart-to-heart talk with Carpenter -- continues.

“Obviously, I just want to continue to put good swings on balls and hit the ball hard because that gives you the best chance to get hits and hit home runs,” said Burleson, whose .784 OPS is tops on the team. “Whether I’m lining out or whatever, I’m just going to continue doing that.”