Matt Carpenter never thought he would make it back. The infielder could not figure out his swing. He went 1-for-3 on Oct. 3, 2021 against the Cubs and the veteran Cardinals infielder walked out of Busch Stadium for what he figured would be his last time.
“The major leagues is a tough place to be when you’re not at your best and when you’re up at the plate searching for your swing and not full of a ton of confidence,” Carpenter said. “It’s a tough place to be in and that’s kind of the spot I was in the last couple seasons.”
A three-time All-Star and career .263/.369/.457 hitter who hit 36 homers in 2018, left St. Louis after hitting under .200 and with seven homers in 180 games over his last two seasons.
But the lefty-hitting Carpenter kept searching for that swing even after many thought he might be done. The 36-year-old revamped his swing to get the bat a more level path and more time through the zone and focused on pulling the ball more. He has also benefited from landing with the Yankees and being a savvy veteran in a lineup where pitchers are more likely to challenge him than Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo or Giancarlo Stanton.
The turnaround is dramatic as he returns with the Yankees for a three-game series in Busch Stadium this weekend where he says he left with no regrets.
“When you play for as long as I did at a place like that you always think that you’re going to finish your career there, but it just didn’t work out,” Carpenter said. “As far as regrets I have zero regrets of the way that my time in St. Louis went. The memories that I made, the friendships that I made, the success that we had as a team and also that I had individually. I raised a family there. My kids were born there and it’s just nothing but great memories.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of or sad about.”
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Carpenter returns to face the team that he played most of his career for hitting .322/.435/.791 with a 1.226 OPS and 15 home runs as a key member of the ‘22 Bombers.
“I think he’s back to being the All Star-level hitter that he’s been for most of his career,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s got a great approach, great eye at the plate and he controls the strike zone. When you do that you usually get yourself in a good position. More often than not, you’re going to get yourself in good counts because you’re controlling the strike zone, and then he’s got the swing that allows him to handle mistakes, whether they’re secondary pitches or good fastballs.”
After leaving St. Louis, Carpenter signed a minor league deal with the Rangers and played for over a month in Triple-A Round Rock. The Yankees had scouted him in spring training and liked the underlying numbers they saw from his minor league time. Shortly after Carpenter opted out of his contract, the Bombers were looking for a lefty bat.
Carpenter is taking advantage of the lineup he is in and the place he plays. With the notorious short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, Carpenter’s swing fits perfectly. He’s pulling the ball more than he ever has in his career, over half of his batted balls (55.4%) are pulled to the right-field side of the diamond.
It makes his return a little sweeter, not bittersweet. Carpenter comes back with nothing but love and appreciation for the city, fans, organization and former teammates. In fact his only regret is that for all the work he put in while with the Cardinals the results did not come those last two years.
“From my own standpoint, I mean, I’m certainly glad I’m playing well, and I’m certainly glad that I’m on the best team in baseball and get an opportunity to play for a championship,” Carpenter said. “But I don’t have any ill will to where I’m coming in and almost want to stick it to fans, like that’s not where my mindset is. I mean I would have loved to have played at this level the last two seasons. I’ve worked like crazy to do it, just didn’t happen.
“And, you know, for whatever reason, it’s happening now and I’m thankful for it.”