Carpenter reflects on whirlwind 2013 with Braves
From Minor Leagues to setup man in the bigs, righty pleased with ups and downs
ATLANTA -- As this year's summer months elapsed and autumn approached, David Carpenter found himself in the midst of a season that provided memories that seemed unimaginable when he exited Spring Training with the assignment to extend his development at the Minor League level.
It is not hard to understand just how far Carpenter progressed this year. The Braves sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett in early April with the thinking he might serve as an effective long-relief option at the big leagues. Six months later, they sent him to the mound to protect a one-run eighth-inning lead against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
When Yasiel Puig opened this fateful eighth by sneaking an opposite-field double down the unguarded first-base line, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez chose not to bring dominant closer Craig Kimbrel in for a six-out save. Instead, he opted to stick with Carpenter, who had earned this confidence somewhere in his accelerated transformation from Minor Leaguer to Major League setup man.
Carpenter welcomed the challenge and admirably dealt with the nightmarish result that ended his dream season. A little more than a month has passed since he hung the slider that Juan Uribe drilled over the left-field wall for a two-run home run that sent the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series and forced the Braves to deal with another quick exit from the postseason.
"It was painful for a lot of us," Carpenter said. "The players, myself and the fans included, all of us kind of suffered on that one. I tried to learn from that, put things together and not let it eat at me too much. But it stung for awhile."
Time might never fully erase the pain. But as he spends the next few months preparing for the upcoming season, Carpenter seems determined to prevent that home run from spoiling the positives of his campaign.
"It's something that plays in my mind every once in a while," Carpenter said. "I think about it. It's a painful learning experience. But it's something that I'll be able to use later on in my career. I'll have a better idea of how to attack in that situation or do things a little bit different."
Carpenter learned from many of the experiences he gained while compiling a 1.78 ERA in a career-high 56 appearances this year. Five years ago, the Cardinals opted to end his days as a catcher and convert him into a pitcher, like they had with Jason Motte two years earlier.
When the Braves claimed Carpenter off waivers from the Red Sox last November, they understood he had a powerful right arm and the need to continue developing his secondary pitches.
As this season progressed, Carpenter's slider, splitter and changeup were much more consistently effective than they had been in the past. The 28-year-old reliever credits some of this improvement to a conversation he had with Tim Hudson while they were shagging batting-practice fly balls at Turner Field before a game in May.
At the same time, Carpenter credits Brian McCann for helping him build the confidence to attack hitters more aggressively than he had previously at the Major League level.
"I just remember being in the dugout, and [McCann] told me, 'You need to be the guy that comes in and just start shutting people down,'" Carpenter said. "He said, 'You have the ability to do it, and you need to go out there with the mindset that you can do it each and every time.'"
Carpenter entered this season having compiled a 5.70 ERA in 67 appearances with the Astros and Blue Jays over the previous two years. He did not exactly elicit much confidence when he made his Atlanta debut on May 10 and allowed the Giants two runs in one inning.
But Carpenter allowed runs in just two of his first 15 appearances and then continued to impress to the point that the Braves entered August with the confidence he could consistently be used in high-leverage situations.
Carpenter strengthened this confidence on Aug. 5, when he entered a tied game against the Nationals with a runner on second and none out in the seventh. He struck out Jayson Werth and then retired Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond to escape the threat unscathed.
"I remember stranding that guy at second and having that feeling of 'This is how it's done, and this is how we're going to do it from now on,'" Carpenter said. "Then the rest of the season went the way it did."
Carpenter fashioned a 1.33 ERA and limited opponents to a .204 on-base percentage during his final 29 regular-season appearances. His success during this span helped the Braves deal with the absence of setup man Jordan Walden, who missed three weeks with a groin strain he suffered in late August and never regained his successful form.
As Carpenter prepares to return next year to join Walden and Luis Avilan as the top candidates to serve as Kimbrel's setup men, he will be attempting to build off of this past year's success and prove that the painful conclusion simply made him stronger.
"This season was one I always thought I'd be capable of experiencing," Carpenter said. "I was able to do it somewhat in the Minor Leagues. I was just waiting for the opportunity to do it at the big league level. I definitely didn't expect it to go quite the way it did. But it was a blast from Day 1."