JUPITER, Fla. — Conventional wisdom suggests that Chris Carpenter's modified spring training is all about preserving him following a 273-inning load last season and postseason. Carpenter turns 37 next month, carries a complicated medical history and is entering the first installment of a two-year, $21 million contract extension.
But Carpenter insisted Tuesday that conventional wisdom only has it partly right.
Carpenter faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time Tuesday. Most of his colleagues did the same five days before. Carpenter threw from behind a screen at about 75 percent. First baseman Lance Berkman nearly one-hopped a ball off Carpenter's ducking head. After 25 pitches, Carpenter was done and left Field 1 to fan applause.
Moments later, Carpenter explained how conventional wisdom doesn't necessarily apply within his unconventional spring.
"My goal the next few times out is to get back in command not of my pitches, but my body," Carpenter said. "I feel like the last few years I haven't paid as much attention in getting my body in the proper position."
Carpenter said he hasn't felt comfortable with his pitching mechanics since 2006, the year before he suffered a devastating combination of elbow and nerve complications that required a ligament transplant in 2007 and an abortive comeback in 2008.
Incredibly, Carpenter cited dissatisfaction Tuesday with his pitching mechanics while leading the National League with a 2.24 ERA in 2009, the year in which he also finished second to the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum in balloting for the Cy Young Award.
"What I was paying attention to was finding a way to get the ball to where the (catcher's) glove is," Carpenter said. "Ultimately, that's what you need to do. But if you pay attention to mechanics it's going to make it a little easier to get that consistent throw, and that's why my effort level today was what it is."
No grunting accompanied Carpenter's session. He instead appeared to concentrate on slowing his motion and extending over his front leg. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner insisted he would take the same approach into his next several throws in an attempt to streamline his delivery before jumping into a game environment.
Carpenter critiqued himself for throwing "two sloppy curveballs" Tuesday but was pleased overall with the feedback his body offered. "I felt I was staying through the ball, and that's what my goal is going to be the next few times out." After making only two spring starts last year because of a hamstring pull suffered in his first outing, Carpenter insisted, "I know when I need to be ready. And that's opening day, not Feb. 28."
For several minutes Carpenter described the adjustments he made to compensate for his injuries and his resulting inconsistent mechanics. Carpenter acknowledged "pitching is all about improvising" but recognized that there is a point where the practice becomes detrimental.
Author of 472 1/3 regular-season innings the last two years, Carpenter believes his lower body has become a less consistent part of his delivery. His left foot has landed at different points in his delivery, affecting both command and movement of his pitches.
While winning 16 of 35 starts in 2010, Carpenter walked 63 batters and surrendered 21 home runs compared to 38 walks and seven home runs during a more dominant 2009.
Carpenter actually walked fewer hitters and allowed fewer home runs in more innings last season than in 2010. However, he also allowed 29 more hits in 2 1/3 more innings, a statistic that could be partially explained by more porous infield defense but also by a maddening inability to make put-away pitches early in the season. Carpenter's eventual 11-9 record masked a 1-7 mark and 4.47 ERA that followed him from a June 17 start against the Kansas City Royals.
"I pitched well the second half but I was still not in control the way I like," said Carpenter, who threw the division series and World Series clinchers among six postseason starts, five of which became team wins. "I just found a way to make it work."
Seeking a brighter shade of dominance, Carpenter insisted he is not looking for a quick fix. He instead wants to restore consistency that can follow him through the autumn of his career.
"I'm not saying I will never be out of control again, but I need to get back in control of what I'm doing over the rubber," he said. "I think it's going to help me here — and help me over home plate with my command."