Certainly Matt Carpenter knew the question was coming so when the St. Louis Cardinals infielder was asked where he will hit in the lineup for 2018, he reiterated his familiar answer.
“Wherever Mike tells me to,” answered Carpenter. “That’s something that I have said a thousand times and people still don’t believe me. They think I’m knocking on Mike’s door every single day begging to hit leadoff, and I’m just not. I end up there every year because that’s just kind of how the chips fall. And I’ve had a long conversation this offseason about this: I think that this year more than ever we’ve got a lot of guys who can do that and do that well – between Dexter and Tommy and Kolten, there’s more than enough guys for that position. And I think you’re maybe going to see a new face there.”
At least early on, Mike Matheny hints that may indeed be the case as the manager was asked a similar question about where Carpenter will bat.
“We draw up a lot of potential lineups, as everybody does, and I think there’s obviously reason to talk about him at the top of the lineup because he’s had success there,” began Matheny. “But I do believe, as everybody else knows, Dex can do that just as well. I think we have a few guys who can do that well, but as you draw up a perfect lineup, which we all do, you’d like to see Carp really be able to fall into that middle of the order a little bit more, where you could use Dex at the top and you can see a Tommy in a two spot, and then Ozuna has done such a great job in that clean up.
“Then we’re talking left, right, looking a little different as we have some splits. I think we have flexibility and I think Carp provides that flexibility on the defensively and in the lineup as well. You have a guy that can hit first, that can hit third, that can hit anywhere in the lineup. Dex has proven to kind of be that guy I think. Even surprising himself with how great of a job he did when we had to put him in the middle. Versatility, you can’t have enough of it this time of year.”
For the record, Carpenter his hitting .291 (638-2191) in his career when penciled in as the lead-off hitter, with 721 of those at-bats leading off an inning. He has hit .243 (215-885) in his other at-bats. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the full story.
“It’s something I chalk a lot up to coincidence,” said Carpenter. “I don’t have a ton experience in other positions. You don’t have to believe it, but I know it to be true. A lot of times – and Mike can vouch for me because we’ve had these conversations – but a lot of the times when I’m hitting third or hitting second and it’s not going as well as I want, I can feel myself turning the corner. It’s like the natural flows of a season – you go up, you go down, you have highs, you have lows.
“Well, I felt myself on some of these lows and felt like I was trending in the right direction and it just so happens that that day he’s made the move and I’m back in the leadoff spot, and I take off. A lot of that is circumstantial. A lot of it just happens. So I don’t buy into, ‘He doesn’t hit as well in these other positions.’ I just don’t think I’ve had enough opportunity in those spots to really truthfully be able to give a good explanation for it.
“Going forward, I’m excited about having that opportunity to have that chance. We’ll see how it plays out.”
The lineup question was a popular one as Marcell Ozuna, and Tommy Pham were also asked about their potential spots 1-9.
“That’s the thing, I felt like I hit everywhere last year,” said Pham. “Carp makes it easy on me, truthfully, because he sees a lot of pitches. I started seeing a lot of pitches, though. I heard Jen mention putting Dex in two-hole, me hitting three. I really don’t care. Just don’t clog the base in front of me because I want to steal. I mean, Dex isn’t slow. He can run a little bit.”
As for Ozuna, he just wants to see his name on the card each day.
“Be in the lineup is my best part,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if hit eight or leadoff. Be in the lineup. Play everyday. That makes me feel happy.”