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Carpenter predicts he may not leadoff in talent-packed lineup

Matt Carpenter [Lou Countryman photo]

If there’s one baseball topic guaranteed to start a good back-and-forth among Cardinals fans, it’s where first baseman Matt Carpenter should bat in the lineup.

Carpenter likes hitting leadoff. But he doesn’t decide the lineup. That’s Mike Matheny’s job and Carpenter takes it all in stride.

“Wherever Mike tells me to,” Carpenter said about where he will hit this season. “That’s something I’ve said 1,000 times and people still don’t believe me. They know I’m knocking on Mike’s door every day begging to hit leadoff. I’m just not. I end up there every year because that’s kind of how the chips fall.

“I think, and I’ve had long conversations with Mike this offseason about this, this year more than ever that we have a lot of guys who can do that [lead off] and do it well. Between Dexter [Fowler] and Tommy [Pham] and event Kolten [Wong], there’s more than enough guys for that position. I think maybe you’ll see a new face there. Time will tell. I’ll do whatever is asked of me.”

This spring, Carpenter has been battling back tightness. Last year, the three-time All-Star also suffered from back and oblique soreness. Matheny said he believes Carpenter’s preseason injuries can be attributed to his tenacious spring regimen.

“This is like Disney World for a baseball rat – spring training,” Matheny said, “You come down, you can work all you want, the sun is shining, you use these beautiful facilities, you’ve got every single coach and every trainer at your disposal.”

At least the injury will force Carpenter to get some rest. Matheny said that might help stave off fatigue later in the season. “This could be one of those blessings in disguise,” he said.

A career .277 hitter, Carpenter experienced a dip last year when he hit .241 with 23 homers and 69 RBIs. Shoulder issues derailed the second half of Carpenter’s 2017 campaign. Thankfully, they didn’t require offseason surgery.

This year, he’s looking for better things but said he doesn’t think he hits better at leadoff.

“There [are] natural flows in the season. You go up. You go down. You have highs. You have lows. A lot of that is circumstantial. So I don’t buy the whole ‘I can’t hit as well in other positions’ talk that comes up,” Carpenter said. “I just don’t think I’ve had enough opportunity in those other spots to be able to give a good explanation for it. Going forward, I’m excited to have that chance and we’ll see how it plays out.”

He said he takes pride in his ability to draw walks. That means he’s on base as a potential RBI for someone.

“Really, when you have the ability to get on base, you put pressure on the opposing pitching staff,” Carpenter said. “We’ve got three guys and, however it falls, we can get on base really well. It will put pressure on pitching staffs to throw strikes, not to walk us.

“When they worry about walking guys, they leave balls over the middle and you can clean up on that.”

That good lineup could help propel the Cardinals back into the postseason.

“The St. Louis Cardinals are expected to be in the playoffs,” Capenter said. “With the way our division is, I wouldn’t imagine for a second our organization would stand pat and not make efforts to get up back in the playoffs.”

At 32, Carpenter is one of the “old” guys on the team. He doesn’t mind at all.

“Yeah, my wife and I were looking at the roster and I’m one of the old guys now,” Carpenter said. “I feel like I just got here. That’s the way the game is now. Time flies as we all know. It’s fun to have these young players who bring so much excitement.”

That excitement only gets sweeter in October.

“Look, every year we go into the spring with the thought of winning a World Series. For two straight years, we’ve been short of getting into postseason,” Carpenter said. “We’ve got a lot of guys used to playing deep into October so that hunger is driving us this year. There’s a lot of new faces who haven’t experienced a lot of the postseason some of us have.

“There’s enough guys like myself, and Adam [Wainwright] and Yadi [Molina] who are pushing these guys to perform and compete and, hopefully, that group will start heading to where we want to go – and that’s October.”

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