JUPITER, Fla. – Despite dominating down the stretch, going 4-0 in the playoffs and leading the Cardinals to a World Series title, ace Chris Carpenter wasn’t completely pleased with how he pitched last year.
The former Cy Young Award winner was one of the best pitchers in the league the final half of the season and won the clinching games in both the Division Series and World Series. But you’d have never known it based on how he felt.
“I pitched good the second half but I was still not in control the way I’d like,” Carpenter said. “I just found a way to make it work.”
While most of the attention and focus regarding Carpenter has been on a heavy workload a year ago, the right-hander arrived in Jupiter with other concerns.
Instead of focusing on results, Carpenter plans on using this spring to focus on what helps him get results – the mechanics of his delivery and his balance on the mound.
“I need to get back in command, not of my pitches, but of my body,” Carpenter said. “I feel like the last few years I haven’t paid as much attention to getting my body in the proper spot mechanically. What I was paying attention to was trying to find a way to get the ball to where the glove is.
“Ultimately that’s what you want to do but if your paying attention to it mechanically, it’s going to make it a little easier to get that consistent throw.”
Carpenter threw a career-high 273 1/3 innings last season, more than any other pitcher in baseball. He also exceeded 4,000 pitches, many of which were in high pressure situations down the stretch.
In hopes of protecting his arm and keeping him fresh this year, the Cardinals have altered Carpenter’s schedule this spring. He threw his first live batting practice Tuesday while Wainwright and others have thrown to hitters twice.
Carpenter hasn’t formulated a final plan with manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist but said he will likely miss his first spring start next week and jump into the rotation when his spot comes up the second time.
“I’m not sure when my next throw is,” Carpenter said. “I think ultimately, you want to get out there and work. I think if anything happens, we might just miss that first start, but that’s not even 100 percent yet, either. I don’t know.
“I know when I need to be ready, and that’s Opening Day, not Feb. 28.”
Carpenter got off to a slow start last year, going 1-7 with a 4.47 ERA in his first 15 starts. But things turned around in late June, when he went 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA in his final 19 starts from June 23 on.
Overall he finished a respectable 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA despite the poor start.
But even after the strong finish, going 4-0 in the playoffs and pitching the Cardinals to wins in two deciding games, Carpenter wasn’t pleased with how he felt on the mound.
Carpenter was essentially improvising on the mound as he went, overcoming a lack of repetition in his mechanics by making adjustments on the fly.
The right-hander wants to change that this spring. For the first time since before he missed nearly all of 2007 and 2008 with arm injuries, Carpenter hopes to find a consistent delivery for a full season.
“That’s what my goal is going to be the next few times out,” Carpenter said. “I’m not going to stray from it because it’s important that I get back in control of what I’m doing over the rubber because I think it will help me out here and help me at home plate
“Getting out on my front leg the way I’m supposed to, getting over that front leg, your always going to battle delivery mechanical issues, but I need to pay a little bit more attention to what’s going on with mine and be more consistent. That’s what I’m going to do this spring.”
After consecutive healthy seasons for the first time since 2005 and 2006, Carpenter can afford the luxury this spring of working on his mechanics and not focusing on rehabbing or arm strength.
While the heavy workload from a year ago will cause the Cardinals to monitor his workload this spring, Carpenter said he’s more focused on getting his delivery back on track.
“Now I’m at a spot where I can come in day after day and pick up a ball and throw and work on stuff,” Carpenter said. “I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”