Healthy Carpenter Building a Career

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – Cubs pitching prospect Chris Carpenter had the size (6-4, 215), the velocity (mid 90's) and the numbers at Kent State University to have been a first-round pick in 2008. But due to past injuries, the Cubs were able to grab Carpenter in the third round.

Carpenter went through two major surgeries at Kent State. First, Carpenter had Tommy John Surgery. After that, he had a lesser known procedure.

"It was basically removing scar tissue from the previous surgery and then they did an ulnar nerve transposition where they basically just move the nerve in your arm a little bit. That was my second surgery," Carpenter said.

The surgeries may have affected Carpenter's draft position, but not one to complain, Carpenter isn't hung up on what could have been.

"I'm happy with where I got drafted and the way everything worked out," Carpenter says.

Carpenter also has a positive outlook on how his surgery helped him become a better ball player.

"It set me back at the time, but I think it was also kind of a good thing for me because it changed my work ethic around and made me work a little bit harder," Carpenter says. "When I was rehabbing, I came back and got stronger and in better shape. I came back, I think, better than I was before the surgery so it actually helped me."

Perhaps the reason Carpenter is able to take such a positive outlook is that his surgery was different than other players who have suffered through Tommy John Surgery.

Most players who undergo Tommy John Surgery do so because of the frequent use of breaking pitches at a young age. That wasn't the case for Carpenter; therefore, he did not have to change his throwing motion when he returned to the mound.

"I tried not to change anything. I asked them if they thought that the injury was caused by throwing and they said no, that it was just one of those things. I didn't change anything," Carpenter recalled.

Although Carpenter's surgery wasn't caused by recurrent use of his breaking pitches, it was still hard for him to regain confidence in those pitches.

"It was probably at least a couple years until I felt confident in throwing everything again. The hardest thing to get over was throwing my breaking ball as hard as I could with no pain. I had little worries here and there, but I feel fine now and everything is good."

Things are going well for Carpenter now. The 23-year-old right-hander was promoted to Double-A Tennessee on July 30 after accumulating a 2.44 ERA in 73.2 innings in Low-A Peoria, and a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings at Class High-A Daytona.

Carpenter replaced Southern League All-Star pitcher Jay Jackson on the Smokies' roster. Jackson was demoted to Daytona in a corresponding move.

Carpenter did hit a snag in his first appearance for the Smokies on July 31. He pitched only three innings and gave up three earned runs in a start against Mobile.

"Here I've only had my one start, but just with what I've noticed, if you get behind in counts then people here usually hit your mistakes more than in the lower levels," Carpenter said. "I put myself in a bad situation in my first start, but I can't put that on anyone else but me. That's the one thing I noticed in my first start; that if you get behind guys and miss on pitches you will pay a lot more."

"He was a little nervous the other night in his first start and he gave the hitters too much credit, but I've heard nothing but rave reviews about him and I expect good things from him," Smokies pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn said of Carpenter.

A rough outing after a promotion can be treacherous ground for a young pitcher's psyche, but don't expect Carpenter to take his July 31 start with him to the mound for his next appearance with the Smokies. Unlike some young players, Carpenter considers the mental element of the game one of his biggest strengths.

"I think the strongest part of my game is the mental aspect," Carpenter said. "Mentally I feel really good out there and I think that's a big part of the game. You can't let things rattle you. My stuff is always going to be my stuff. Whether it's a good day or a bad day, it's always going to be the same. But mental approach, I think, is pretty good."

One of Carpenter's other strengths is something that he developed when recovering from his surgery – working hard off the field.

"I try to work out hard even during the season," Carpenter said. "The day after I pitch, I usually try to do an upper body lift and the day after that on my bullpen day I'll usually do a pretty heavy lower body lift. I run in between all the time. I'm a really big believer in being in the best shape you can and working really hard."

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