It’s that time of the year. The newest Yankees veteran reclamation project is here and it’s Matt Carpenter. He’s off to a great start so far through 24 plate appearances, slashing .262/.417/.985 which is good enough for a 262 wRC+. Perhaps I undersold that a bit — he has been incredible with four home runs already and has had some great, extended at-bats in important moments. One of those moments came against the great Shohei Ohtani last week to lead off the game.
Ohtani’s first experience on the mound in the Bronx wasn’t so pleasant. Getting off to a good start would have been very nice, but Matt Carpenter had other plans …
A nice take to start the game. Carpenter is known to be a patient hitter. That’s why Ohtani attacked him with a fastball to start the game, but it cut just a bit too much under the zone.
I love the consistency of Matt Carpenter’s swings. It was clear he knew he would get another fastball on the 1-0 pitch and he wasn’t cheated. With a pitcher like Ohtani you want to be on time to attack the fastball. He did exactly that but fouled it off. 1-1 count.
This is as good of a tunnel you will see with a middle-middle fastball and inside slider. The late bite on this pitch was nasty. Carpenter’s bat path is well suited for a fastball-slider combination. It lets him foul off this pitch even though he was very early. 1-2 count.
This location may make you believe this was a hanging splitter, but you must remember the location on the fastball and slider. They were in the middle of the zone. See for yourself.
The slider, splitter, and fastball are all right nearby one another but the splitter wasn’t flat enough to sit on a platter for Carpenter. It had enough break to function as a changeup. Like the idea on the previous foul ball, Carpenter’s bat path is well suited to fight these pitches off even with off timing. 1-2 count again.
Whoops. Ohtani wasted one here and it was not on purpose. Just an accidental spiked splitty. 2-2 count.
A good ol’ challenge fastball at 99 mph on the inner half of the plate. Ohtani just kept pounding this area of the zone, as you can see in the previous pitch chart. It seems as if it may have been accidental, since Stassi was set up low and away. Carpenter took a very good two-strike swing. So far, none of these have been plus plus pitches and it let Carp stick in the at-bat. Run back the 2-2 count.
And ... another middle-middle slider with enough late wicked bite. Although these pitches are moving nicely, it’s not enough to put Carpenter away. He is a nightmare for righties to try and strike out if he is taking consistent hacks like this and you’re not properly locating your pitches. We have another 2-2 count.
When you’re struggling to get that swing and a miss, you resort to a surprise option. Ohtani has a nice loop on his curveball, but this location just isn’t going to cut it. It’s an easy semi-emergency hack for Carpenter to fight off and again get another 2-2 count.
The nature of throwing a splitter is that you will sometimes not have perfect command of it. So far, there have been two spiked and one left in the middle of the zone. It’s an amazing, deceptive pitch if located well, but against a lefty swing like Carpenter’s, you probably won’t get lucky on this location unless the hitter is overly anxious. Based on Carpenter’s previous swings, that wouldn’t be the case. We finally have a 3-2 count.
My oh my. Carp was just wearing Ohtani down in this at-bat. He definitely did the new Yankee some favors by peppering the same zone over and over with an array of pitches, but even so, Carp did a great job to fight off just about any pitch and spit on anything out of the zone.
Where to go now? He is on just about everything. You’ve thrown a bunch of different pitches but just can’t get the whiff. While he’s been late on the fastballs, he was also early on the slider and splitter. That’s a sign to me that he is just seeing the ball well no matter what is thrown. If you’re the catcher, you call whatever pitch you think of and just hope Shohei executes. Let’s play a little game. How many times can you throw a different pitch in the same zone before it gets tatted?
The answer in this case was seven. This was the seventh pitch located in this part of the zone. There’s an old saying that when a hitter is just slightly late like Carpenter had been against the fastballs, that you don’t speed the hitter’s bat up. Nothing in baseball in absolute, but the timing on this swing was identical to the fastballs. The speed differentiation going to the cutter let Carpenter’s barrel get far enough out to crush this pitch over the right field wall. A professional at-bat from an experienced hitter. It was a prelude to what would in the rest of this outing. It’s tough to recover from an 11-pitch at-bat to start the game.