BALTIMORE -- All summer, people in and around Detroit’s organization wondered how Kerry Carpenter’s bat would play in the big leagues. Now, the Tigers are giving Carpenter an extended look down the stretch, trying to find out exactly what they have in their No. 14 prospect. Is he a depth piece whose power struggles to translate against big league pitching? A middle-of-the-order threat? Or something in between?
One thing they are learning: the power is real.
Carpenter showcased that signature skill again Wednesday, hitting his second homer in two nights in the Tigers’ 8-1 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards. A night after sending a 406-foot homer over the left-center-field wall, Carpenter connected on an 0-2 pitch for another opposite-field shot to account for Detroit’s only run against right-hander Jordan Lyles.
The long ball was a near carbon copy of the one Carpenter struck Tuesday, and the sixth in 28 games for the rookie outfielder, who hit 30 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A before his callup on Aug. 10. That’s 36 homers in 125 games across three levels this season. How many more can Carpenter hit down the stretch?
“Since I've been up here in the big leagues, I haven't been as consistent as I've wanted to be,” Carpenter said. “But when I’m doing this like I’ve been the last couple nights, I feel like that’s what I can do. That’s close to my full potential.”
A 19th-round pick in 2019, Carpenter projected as more of an organizational depth piece before breaking out in the Minors after undergoing a swing overhaul last offseason. He followed a 6-for-32 start in the Majors with a 13-for-35 stretch (two home runs), and while the high average and almost even walk-to-strikeout ratio he showed in the Minors haven’t translated yet, Carpenter’s power has picked up of late. He’s now hit four homers in his last 11 games.
All told, the 25-year-old is hitting .275 with six homers and an .868 OPS through 28 games. Tigers manager A.J. Hinch inserted Carpenter in the 3-hole for the second time Wednesday, in between Javier Báez and Miguel Cabrera.
“Being behind Javy and being in front of Miggy was something that I never even dreamed about,” Carpenter said. “So it was pretty cool.”
Said Hinch: “We knew when we brought him up he’d handle right-handed pitching and have an adjustment against lefties. He’s putting up pretty good at-bats. He knows the strike zone. He’s not afraid to let the ball travel pretty deep. He’s got a pretty good plan and he’s being productive, so he’ll be back in there again Friday.”
That production has been enhanced against right-handed pitching, with Carpenter hitting .294 with five homers and a .603 slugging percentage in 68 at-bats when he has the platoon advantage. Hinch said he bumped up Carpenter in the lineup Wednesday to maximize his exposure to Lyles, and disincentivize Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde from calling upon lefty relievers like Cionel Pérez, Keegan Akin or DL Hall in a big spot.
Lyles rendered the strategy moot by tossing the Orioles’ first complete game in more than 16 months, but Carpenter was responsible for two of Detroit’s three hits and its lone run.
“When I'm going by like this, it's when I'm hitting the mistakes and hitting the pitches that I want to,” Carpenter said. “All I want to do is reach my full potential in this league, and they’re giving me the opportunity. I’m just trying to show them what I can do.”
Asked about the biggest adjustment he’s had to make to big league pitching, Carpenter said “just having to be locked in every at-bat, having my swing where it needs to be every single day.”
“Because when it’s not there, I get eaten alive,” Carpenter said. “But when it's there, I feel like I can succeed in this league.”