By Rob Rains
For more than 20 minutes on Monday, a candid Matt Carpenter stood in a small hotel meeting room and talked about what went wrong for him offensively last season and how he is motivated to prove to Cardinals fans and teammates that he can still be an effective hitter.
Carpenter also said that he knows talk, especially in January, is different than going out and actually doing it on the field. He has spent this off-season, however, getting himself ready to do more than just talk.
“Just how my mind works, how I was raised. Things like this (last season) are learning tools and are good things,” Carpenter said. “I really look at last year as more of a good thing than a bad thing. Was I happy that I performed the way I did? Of course not. Having gone through it, I’m glad it happened. In my career, really my whole life, I’ve always responded well to adversity. I’m looking forward to this year.
“I’m extremely motivated this year. I want to earn my good graces with our fans and even my teammates, showing them I can still be an elite hitter. I’ve got a lot of personal motivation.”
The 34-year-old Carpenter has spent his off-season at home in Texas working on trying to correct what he identified as his two biggest problems last season, hitting too many fly balls with only soft contact and swinging and missing too many pitches. A bad start to the season snowballed and saddled Carpenter with a career-low .226 average even after he finished the year on a little bit of an uptick.
His normal period of reflection after a season began with some direct conversations about his performance.
“I was very candid with our front office and coaching staff at the end of the year that I really wanted to apologize,” Carpenter said. “I felt like I let them down. I really was hard on myself the way that I played. I was hopeful they still had faith in me and we had some real good conversations. Just like everybody does, I’m going to come into spring training and try to earn a job. That’s my mindset. I want to find a way back on the field more consistently and help our group. I’ve got to perform to do that. Nothing is given to you. I’m ready for that challenge.”
When Dexter Fowler was coming off a poor season in 2018, team management stood by him and committed to him as the Cardinals starting right fielder last season. Carpenter has received the same kind of backing and support going into this season, saying they expect him to be the starter at third base and that he will have a bounce-back season.
He has used that as part of his motivation in the off-season workouts, concentrating on hitting the ball up the middle and to all fields and trying to not pull the ball.
“My swing candidly has felt as good as it’s ever felt,” Carpenter said. “I’m happy with the work I have put in. I can sit and talk to you guys about that now all day long but until I go out and perform and prove it and show that I can still be a productive hitter it doesn’t really mean a whole lot.
“Sometimes it takes a year like last year to look back and say,
“Ok, how did we get to this point? What has happened? I had a lot of good conversations, and hit with some former teammates and players. We had really good deep conversations about what I expect out of myself and my swing. I’ve got to get back to hitting line drives.”
There were times last season, Carpenter admitted, when he went to the plate basically knowing he had very little chance of getting a hit.
“I’m going to steal one of my favorite quotes from my former teammate Lance Berkman,” he said. “I felt like I was in the fetal position most of the time. My favorite line of his was, ‘If you are going to be a good hitter you’ve got to learn how to hit in the fetal position.’ It’s pretty true. Most of the year I felt like I was in a hole before the at bat started.”
In light of the sign-stealing scandal news that broke last week, Carpenter said he had never had a teammate who was able to relay to him what kind of pitch was coming while he was standing at the plate.
What would have happened had he known that information?
“I wouldn’t have hit .230 last year,” Carpenter said.
Other news and notes from the third and final day of the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up:
* During his session with the media, team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the Cardinals were not actively involved in any trade talks and that it’s not likely they will go much beyond their current projected $170 million payroll for this season. “We feel good about our club,” he said. DeWitt said the $170 million payroll was “pushing the envelope, to be honest with you.”
* DeWitt said there is a possibility the team will discuss a contract extension this spring with Yadier Molina, who is entering the final year on his current deal but has said he wants to keep playing. “We’ll get the lay of the land and see how it goes,” he said. Molina said he potentially wants to play two more years.
* There also might be a possibility of discussing a long-term contract with pitcher Jack Flaherty this spring, DeWitt said.
* John Mozeliak and other front office personnel will head to London on Tuesday in preparation of the Cardinals series there against the Cubs in June. Personnel from the Cubs and Major League Baseball also will be going on the trip.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains