Often times it seems like only the slightest, almost imperceptible change can turn a pitcher’s season around.
Other times it is something much more significant.
For Albuquerque Isotopes left-hander Ryan Carpenter, it was the latter when he started turning around his season five starts ago.
“It’s something (pitching coach Mark) Brewer came to me about,” Carpenter said. “It’s a pitch I kind of threw in the past, then got away from and never really worked on it too much.”
That pitch was a slider, which Carpenter added to his fastball, curveball and changeup.
“I’d say probably a little over a month ago (Brewer) approached me about it in a bullpen session,” Carpenter said. “I just started to work on it. It’s one of those things that as time gone on it’s gotten a lot better. It’s really good for me against lefties.”
It all came after Carpenter was rocked for nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings back on June 3. Since adding that slider, almost everything has clicked. Over his last 32 innings, Carpenter has allowed nine runs total, while striking out 42 and giving up just seven walks.
“It’s opened a new door for him,” Brewer said. “Hitters come into the game based on what they saw earlier in the season and now it’s not the same guy. He brings more ammunition to the table. He gets them off the curveball by throwing the slider. They start scratching their heads. It plants a seed and then the hitters have to start developing a different game plan.
“Right now against Carpenter it’s hard to develop a game plan because he has so many pistols he can go to. He’s got one with the pearl handle, one with the wooden handle, one that’s bronze. He just keeps them off tempo.”
Carpenter earned Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week honors for his recent efforts, including his most dominant start on Saturday. He allowed just one run on three hits, walked none and struck out 11 in eight innings against Tacoma.
“It’s just something I’ve been trying to continue to repeat my mechanics,” Carpenter said. “Each time I try to take the mound, it just comes down to repeating mechanics, which is what pitching is about. The more you can repeat, the better results you get.”
Carpenter has not only put his early-season struggles behind him, but his entire disappointing 2016 campaign. In his first year at Triple-A, the southpaw went 2-3 with a 7.47 ERA, making eight starts and 18 relief appearances.
“I’ve been a starter my whole life, last year was pretty much the first time I’ve been out of the pen,” said Carpenter, who signed with the Rockies in 2014 after being released by the Tampa Bay Rays during spring training. “It didn’t really go too well. I think out of the rotation this year has been nice, I’ve gotten into a nice routine. It’s working out well.”
Overall, Carpenter is 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA. He leads the Isotopes with 96 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings. The fact he has only walked 20 batters over that span might be even more impressive.
“I’ve challenged him a lot with the walks,” Brewer said. “In the past, as a three-pitch pitcher Carp was a little tentative at times from the standpoint of not wanting to make any mistakes. He’s not throwing 95 (mph), he’s 88 to 92, but now he’s tightened it up in his delivery and his execution percentage is way up.”
Carpenter has also been able to endure some of the roster shuffling this season, particularly at catcher, where the Isotopes have used Anthony Bemboom, Dustin Garneau, Ryan Hanigan, Tom Murphy and Jan Vazquez this season.
“There’s been quite a rotation of catchers this season but you can’t let it change your approach,” Carpenter said. “Whether it’s preparing mentally or pitch selection, you always get with your catchers on the same page and that’s something all of these guys do really well.”
It also helps for Carpenter to have his road-trip roommate back this season in right-hander Matt Flemer. The two of them are almost always working together before games, whether in the bullpen or practicing their bunting.
“It’s nice. We’ve actually been together since High-A (Modesto) in 2014,” Carpenter said. “We know each other really well. We kind of build off each other and help each other. We know each other’s pitching style really well.”
The Isotopes will look for another big start from Carpenter when he takes the mound tonight at 7:05 against the Sacramento River Cats (Giants).