ST. LOUIS -- Before Thursday's doubleheader against the Blue Jays, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny toyed with the idea of moving Matt Carpenter out of the three-hole as a means to potentially jump-start the first baseman's bat. Matheny eventually opted against the switch, yet he ended up with the desired result
ST. LOUIS -- Before Thursday's doubleheader against the Blue Jays, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny toyed with the idea of moving Matt Carpenter out of the three-hole as a means to potentially jump-start the first baseman's bat. Matheny eventually opted against the switch, yet he ended up with the desired result anyway.
Carpenter's 11th-inning grand slam off J.P. Howell not only finished off the Cardinals' 8-4 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader, but it represented the sort of timely hit that prompted the Cardinals to move Carpenter into more of a run-production spot to begin with.
Over the team's first 20 games, however, that production had been limited.
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Carpenter entered Thursday as the team's only active position player without a hit with runners in scoring position. His on-base percentage (.362) was almost equal to his slugging (.364), an unusual occurrence for a player who led all Major League players in doubles from 2013-16. Each of the past two seasons, Carpenter posted a .505 slugging percentage.
"I feel like I'm seeing the ball pretty well, doing a good job of getting on base, [but I] haven't strung together a bunch of hits or extra-base hits," said Carpenter, who became the first Cardinals player to hit a walk-off grand slam in extra innings since Tommy Herr (1987). "I don't feel bad, but I don't feel great, either. I think that's just kind of the early season, still trying to find a groove. Hopefully today will start sending me in that right direction."
With a walk and an RBI single to go along with his first career grand slam, Carpenter reached base three times in a game for the first time this season.
"He hasn't been that far off," Matheny said. "We just get accustomed to him putting the ball in play and grinding through at-bats. Something like what he just did could get anybody on a real good run. It's perfect timing. He's a professional hitter. He knows what he's doing. He's another guy who is working on the right things. He'll get there."
In his search for more consistent production, Carpenter has not sacrificed approach. Known for grinding out at-bats, Carpenter came into the game averaging 4.43 pitches per plate appearance this season. That represents the highest such average of his career and ranked sixth best in the National League.
It was the sort of approach that set Carpenter up for his game-winning swing, too. Howell worked ahead, 1-2, before Carpenter laid off a pair of pitches to push the count full. He waited for the cutter the entire at-bat and didn't miss when it came.
"I stayed with my approach, continued to battle," Carpenter said. "[I] got into an even count, and he finally threw what I was looking for."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.