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i thought bobby cox did carpenter a huge favor by ordering bunts with nobody out in both of the first two innings. he actually flashed the sign 3 times in the first 8 batters ---- escobar in the 1st inning, johnson and miller in the 2d --- and while one of the bunts went for a base hit, on the whole i think they helped carpenter immensely, put easy outs on the board when the pitcher was laboring and gave him a chance to collect himself. the 1st-inning sacrifice came before carp had fully reacquainted himself with the strike zone; he missed badly on 5 of his first 6 pitches. the bunt itself came on a pitch nowhere near the strike zone --- should have been ball 2 to escobar. the corky miller bunt in the 2nd inning came after three consecutive singles (one of them on johnson’s bunt). at that early point in the game carpenter had faced 7 men and allowed 4 to reach; if you want to exclude the 2 bunters, he had faced 5 men and allowed 3 to reach. he wasn’t throwing strikes, wasn’t throwing the ball past anybody, hadn’t established any rhythm at all . . . . and cox was giving him outs for free? whatever; he’s the hall of fame manager, not me.

another gift from the braves: right after miller's bunt, jar jurrjens got the swing-away sign on a 2-0 pitch from carpenter with men at 2nd and 3rd and 1 out. shouldn't the pitcher be taking there? jurrjens swung at a borderline fastball which might have been ball 3 and tapped it to albert.

well, let’s sift through some good news. carp’s velocity looked fine ---- 90 to 93 on his primary fastball --- and he maintained it throughout the 67-pitch outing. he didn’t lose any zip after reaching 15 or 20 pitches in a given inning, nor when throwing out of the stretch. all good signs. he was reasonably economical w/ his pitches --- thanks to a 1-2-3 inning in the 4th, he recorded 12 outs on 67 pitches (2 of the outs were bunts, though, and another 2 were obtained against the opposing the pitcher). he didn’t give up an extra-base hit, and most of the outs were fairly routine; he wasn’t just getting lucky or relying on his defense to bail him out (although kennedy made an extremely nice play up the middle to end the 4th, retiring the last man carpenter would face).

most encouraging of all, in my opinion, is that he deployed all of his pitches --- fastball, cutter, curve, change, even a slider or two. and he wasn’t throwing any of them up there just for show; they were all go-to pitches. carp got out of the bases-loaded, two-out jam in the 2nd by fooling gregor blanco with a changeup ---- only the second one he’d thrown all night, and one of only 6 he would throw in the game. he escaped the same jam in the 3rd by getting jeff fancouer to lunge at a perfectly placed slider --- only the second time he’d thown that pitch during the evening. the fact that carp had the confidence and ability to execute those pitches in tight situations is a bright ray of hope. we’re not getting some vanilla facsimilie of our old ace; we’re getting the whole pitcher.

but you might also interpret it (less charitably) this way: carp resorted to trickery with little-used pitches in those tight situations because he couldn’t overpower batters with his primary stuff, as of yore. his two main weapons, fastball and curve, were both misfiring last night. he threw 33 fastballs but only hit the strike zone 18 times, and a lot of the misses were not close; at times he was wide of molina’s target by two feet. he missed up, he missed in the dirt . . . . when he did get the fastball into the zone, it tended to catch too much of the plate. with none out and one on in the 3rd, he threw a 3-1 fastball belt high and not quite far enough inside to kotchman; casey turned on it and lifted it high and deep to right field, but he just got under and it faded short of the track. lucky break. i don’t recall seeing carp hit the corner with a fastball until francouer’s bases-loaded at-bat in the 3rd inning ---- a key pitch, because it got him ahead 1-2 and set up the slider which squelched the threat. the braves didn’t swing and miss at a fastball all night, and rarely even fouled one off ---- they swung at the pitch 11 times and put it into play 8 times, 3 times for base hits. those are ugly ratios; they will have to come down.

his curveball was just as shaky: he only hit the strike zone with it 3 times in 8 tries. the braves swung at all 3 of the curves that passed through the zone --- missed one, hit a flyball out on another, hit the 3rd for a single. the pitch that was in the best shape last night was the cut fastball. carp threw it selectively --- francouer and escobar each got a steady diet of them, and kotchman saw the pitch twice in his first at-bat. carpenter threw 9 of 15 cutters for strikes and induced weak swings --- the braves swung and missed at 2, fouled another 2 off, and only put one into play, a two-hopper to albert.

negative indicators: he threw first-pitch strikes to only 6 of the 20 batters he faced, and allowed the leadoff man to reach in three of the four innings. (as a consequence of the latter, 46 of his first 56 pitches last night came out of the stretch.) positive indicators: carp induced 6 misses in 26 swings, which is pretty good, and he didn’t allow an extra-base hit. of the 12 balls put into play against him (excluding the bunts), half were groundballs and only 2 were line drives. after a 16-month layoff, it was about as good an outing as anyone could have hoped for ---- still plenty to work on, but the foundation is there. if nothing else, it felt good just to see the guy out there again. la russa talks about the psychological lift caused by carpenter’s presence, and i don’t dismiss that; i think it’s meaningful. it’s not anything decisive --- not enough to turn mediocre ballplayers into good ones --- but a team like the cardinals needs every little edge it can get in a race that’s likely to be tight right down to the wire.

i was kind of sorry (and i may be the only one who felt that way) that izzy didn’t a get chance to come in last night for the save. would have been ideal circumstances --- 3-run lead, weak opponent. izzy hasn’t saved a game that carpenter started for almost 2 years --- it last happened on august 20, 2006. if you want a one-note explanation for why it has been a rocky 2 years, that’s as a good as any.

today’s the trade deadline; no major moves likely, but it does seem as if they can add a left-handed reliever if they want one. ohman, mahay, rhodes, guardado, and others are available, to say nothing of (the likely too expensive) sherrill and possibly brian fuentes. another guy who could help the team and prob’y be acquired without losing anybody important is rich aurilia. seems like i toss his name out there every year, but he is a player of spiezio-like utility ---- plays multiple positions, can take a professional at-bat, won’t flinch under pressure. (bet you didn’t know his postseason home-run rate, 1 per 16 at-bats, is nearly as good as albert pujols’, 1 per 15 . . . . ) yeah he’s almost 37, but aurilia can still hit, particularly against left-handers, where the cardinals need the most help. he’d give the cards a decent option to play 3d so glaus can stay fresh, and against a tough left-hander (e.g., sabathia or ted lilly) he might even be pressed into service as a 2bman; he hasn’t started at second or short this year, but he made 18 starts at those positions last season and was (per john dewan) acceptable with the glove. his at-bats would largely come at brendan ryan’s expense, but i can live with that; ryan has a big-league glove but still not a big-league bat, and the cards can use one of the latter down the stretch. aurilia may not be as sexy as jason bay or matt holliday, but he’s a realistic target --- ie, affordable within the cards’ budget of expendable minor-league talent. i’d take him.