By WARREN MAYES
This was not what Matt Carpenter or the St. Louis Cardinals envisioned when he signed his latest contract. Because when the three-time All-Star third baseman wasn’t hurt last season, he wasn’t hitting.
“I certainly was candid with our front office and our coaching staff at the end of the year,” Carpenter said. “I just wanted to apologize. I felt like I’d let them down. I was really hard on myself [because of] the way that I played. But I was hopeful that they still had faith in me. We had some really good conversations.”
Coming off a career-high 36 home runs that made him an MVP candidate in 2018, Carpenter signed a $39 million, two-year deal on April 19, 2019, which included a no-trade clause.
He was hitting .216 with 10 home runs when he was put on the injured list [IL] with a lower back strain on July 2. By July 11, he was activated but after fouling a ball off his foot he was back on the IL and out until early August.
During the 2019 season, he lost his approach, confidence and power. He finished hitting just .226 with 15 home runs.
But for 2020, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. is optimistic about Carpenter returning to form.
“I think and know he wants to bounce back. He’s always been a really hard worker,” DeWitt said. “I know he wants to get back to where he was the year before, which was pretty elite.
“It’s just one of those situations where he had a down year and never kind of got on track. He did play better at the end. He was disappointed with his season and he’s highly motivated to get back to being [the] Matt Carpenter that he has been throughout his career.”
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt agreed.
“I expect a huge year out of him like I always do,” Goldschmidt said. “There obviously were some ups and downs for him and really for our whole team, especially our offense. I think we’re all learning from it, whether it’s myself or Carp or the team as a whole.”
Slow starts have been common for Carpenter, who turned 34 last November.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform,” Carpenter said. “I take a lot of pride in doing the things that help you have a good year. I felt like I did everything I needed to do to put myself in a position to be successful and it just didn’t work out.
“I got off to an ugly start. It just snowballed. I felt like at times I was trying to save a season with one swing. It just wasn’t a good recipe for success and I got myself in a hole.”
Coming out of spring training, the Cardinals had locked Carpenter into the starting third base position. But it’s not just his skill on the bag they’re counting on.
Manager Mike Shildt believes Carpenter will be able to help the NL Central champions be better at the plate.
“The good news is that Matt’s capable of hitting anywhere [in the lineup]. I really, firmly believe that,” Shildt said. “And I also really, firmly believe he’s ready to be in a great spot to compete and help us this year and be a more complete hitter.”
Pitcher Adam Wainwright said he thinks last year might end up helping Carpenter in the long run.
“I think he probably will tell you that he needed to do a lot of things different with his swing and his approach,” Wainwright said. “I think he’s worked really hard on that in the offseason this year.”
Carpenter says he’s ready for a challenge.
“It’s not a guarantee. That’s my mindset. I want to come in and find a way back on the field more consistently,” he said. “You got to perform to do that. Nothing is given to you. I’m ready for that challenge.
“Sometimes it’s good to just have years like that. I really look at last season as more of a good thing than a bad thing for me. Was I happy I performed like I did? Of course not. But now having gone through it, I’m glad it happened. I’ve got a lot of personal motivation.”