Tigers rookie Kerry Carpenter hitless in debut; Guardians hold on for 3-2 victory
Detroit — Rookie Kerry Carpenter hadn’t even been officially activated yet when Tigers manager AJ Hinch assembled the team in the clubhouse and told them general manager Al Avila, the man who one way or another was responsible for them all being in that room, had been fired.
Welcome to the big leagues, indeed.
The left-handed hitting Carpenter, the Tigers’ 19th round pick in 2019, made his debut Wednesday, serving as the Tigers’ designated hitter in a 3-2 loss to the Guardians at Comerica Park.
He went hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times.
“Oh man, it’s an incredible story,” Hinch said of Carpenter, whom the Tigers summoned from Triple-A Toledo to perhaps spark an offense that has been dormant most of the season. “We talk about wanting guys to earn it, he’s done it. Look at what he’s done from starting out repeating Double-A, getting pushed to Triple-A and he’s continued to perform and hit.
“It’s a cool story.”
Carpenter, 24, produced 30 home runs and 75 RBI between Erie and Toledo this season. He was hitting .331 with a .644 slugging percentage for the Mud Hens. As the Tigers’ offense continued to grind, the clamor for Carpenter grew louder and louder.
Finally, after the dispiriting 5-2 loss to the Guardians Tuesday, he got the call.
“It was special,” he said. “I didn’t know when exactly the time would come, but recently I just figured it would. I’m just thankful for it.”
Carpenter was nowhere to be found on the Tigers’ prospects before this season. But on the advice of teammate Jacob Robson, he visited a swing coach in St. Louis during the offseason, Richard Schenck, who has worked with Aaron Judge and Ian Happ among others.
He emerged a very different hitter.
“The biggest difference is the ability to adjust to any pitch,” Carpenter said. “That’s what the swing change really helped me with, to where I can be on the fastball and I can adjust. I can see the ball quicker out of the hand and adjust if I have to.”
He knows the exact moment when that swing change clicked. It was May 15. Erie was playing at Akron against former Guardians’ lefty Logan Allen.
“He struck me out the first at-bat but I was like, ‘Oh, I think I am on to something here. This feels really good.’ I hit a home run off a two-strike slider my next at-bat and I was like, “Wow, I feel like this is it.’
“It clicked I never looked back.”
He makes no apologies or excuses for his journey, which is refreshing.
“I got drafted in the 19th round because I didn’t play very good at Virginia Tech,” he said. “I could’ve gone higher the year before, but I turned it down and I didn’t perform well the next year.
“So they picked me exactly where I should’ve gone. But I always knew I was better than that, so it’s cool I was able to prove myself.”
Carpenter guessed that there’d be 12 to 15 friends and family members at the game, including his mom and sister. He believed his father, who passed away a couple of years ago, would be there in spirit.
“I’m sure it will hit me at some point after the game,” he said. “That I just wish he was here. But that wasn’t God’s plan for him to be here.”
He shares that particular fate with Hinch, whose father died when he was 18.
“He and I already have a special bond,” Hinch said. “Neither of our fathers got to see our Major League debuts. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t proud. I am rooting hard for this kid.”
As for the game, it followed a very tired script for the Tigers. An early 3-0 hole proved too deep to climb out of.
The Guardians jumped on starter Drew Hutchison, the first 10 hitters amassing six hits and plating the three runs. But that was it. Hutchison settled in and retired eight straight through the fifth and the Tigers’ bullpen kept putting up zeros.
Relievers Alex Lange, Joe Jimenez, Andrew Chafin and Gregory Soto dispatched 12 straight hitters. So the last 20 Guardians hitters went down in a row.
Carpenter's three strikeouts contributed to a 14-strikeout night for the Tigers' offense.
"I was on the top step cheering him on the whole time," said Riley Greene, who had a double and a single. "Baseball is a hard game. It definitely humbles you. You can go 6-for-6 one day and 0-for-6 the next day.
"He'll come around. He's going to get some knocks. He's a really good player."
Greene triggered the Tigers' one scoring inning, a two-run fourth. He and Eric Haase doubled and Harold Castro singled against Guardians starter Aaron Civale, his first outing since July 13.
They squandered a glorious opportunity in the fifth. Jonathan Schoop led off with a double and went to third on an infield single by Akil Baddoo.
But Schoop was thrown out at the plate, trying to score on a ground ball up the middle by Greene. Presumably, Schoop expected the Guardians to turn the double-play and concede his run.
Second baseman Andres Gomez instead aggressively threw home and nabbed Schoop.
"Jonathan going was the right decision," Hinch said. "The result of the play was a little unlucky."
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but Guardians reliever James Karinchak struck out Haase (after a nine-pitch fight) and Carpenter (freezing him with a breaking ball).
"(Carpenter) is finding his way through," Hinch said. "I'm disappointed for him that he didn't display the hitting he'd done in the minors. But his time will come. He doesn't have to do anything more than show up ready to play tomorrow
"It was a tough day for him."