Carpenter putting charge in Tigers' lineup

May 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- hadn’t hit an inside-the-park homer since at least his youth ball days. Still, as he rumbled around second base in Sunday’s game against the D-backs and looked for third-base coach Joey Cora following his 422-foot drive high off Chase Field’s center-field wall, he was anticipating his chance.

It took a well-executed relay and a deft turn at the plate from former Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart, forcing Carpenter to slide around a tag, but he still had a game-tying triple as consolation. Carpenter belted a home run one night later in Kansas City, sending a Michael Wacha fastball 430 feet to left-center.

It was Carpenter's longest home run of the season and the third longest of his Major League career, and the left-handed hitter went oppo with it.

“That was like a pull-side right-handed hitter, hitting it way back there,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

Carpenter wasn’t done. He legged out an extra base with a line drive to right that he turned into a leadoff double in the seventh inning. His home-to-second time of 7.99 seconds was easily his fastest of the season, and the fastest time on a double by a Tiger.

An inning later, Carpenter came within feet of a grand slam that would’ve slugged Detroit back into the game, settling for a 394-foot sacrifice fly -- again to left-center. It would’ve been a home run in 20 Major League ballparks, according to Statcast, though not at Comerica Park.

“Would’ve changed the whole complexion of the game,” Hinch said, “but we’ll take the sac fly. It was a quality at-bat. It looks like he’s driving the ball. Obviously, he’s getting a lot of pitches and he’s not missing them. That’s why he’s in the middle of the order.”

If it sounds familiar, Carpenter has a history with May warmups. His path to the Majors began with such a month two years ago at Double-A Erie, where he crushed 13 homers and seven doubles in May, to go with 29 RBIs in 24 games for an incredible 1.393 OPS. In that case, the swing work he put in during a struggling April paid dividends that changed the trajectory of his career.

Carpenter couldn’t repeat his May performance in Detroit last year because he was on the injured list, though he spent a few games at the end of the month on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo. But after holding his own for the first month of this season, he’s showing every sign of heating up.

Carpenter was putting in work during batting practice last homestand, trying to get his timing down so he could launch the ball. It seems to be paying off: Four of his nine highest exit velocities this season have come since May 11, including a season-high 109 mph on a bases-clearing double into the gap in right-center in Friday’s series-opening rout of the Diamondbacks, It was part of a four-RBI performance.

Carpenter has 12 hits in his past 10 games, and 10 have gone for extra bases. He has 20 extra-base hits out of 37 hits for the season. With 10 more games to go in May, he has enough time to turn this into another month to remember.