Cub's John Carpenter Looks to Contribute

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On Sunday, Chris Carpenter will celebrate his 25th birthday. His wish? It could be to finally be recognized as a big league pitcher with the Cubs and not confused with the other right-hander with the same name.

The Cubs' Christopher John Carpenter was selected in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He had been drafted twice before -- in 2004 and again in 2007 -- but didn't sign, chosing to go to school at Kent State.

The other Christopher John Carpenter stars for the Cardinals and has 13 seasons in the big leagues, beginning in 1997 with the Blue Jays. That right-hander is 84-33 with a 2.98 ERA with St. Louis and has one Cy Young Award.

The Cubs' Carpenter wouldn't mind putting up similar numbers as the Cardinals' ace. He could get that chance in 2011.

In 2009, Carpenter's 2.82 ERA led the Cubs' farm system. This past season, he was a combined 8-6 with a 3.41 ERA, making 23 starts for Double-A Tennessee and three for Triple-A Iowa. In 134 2/3 innings combined, he struck out 112. In 2008 and '09, he was 10-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 38 games.

What may have helped this season was a 30-minute conversation with Greg Maddux. The four-time Cy Young Award winner, now a special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, was with the Tennessee team in Montgomery, Ala., in late May. Carpenter started and gave up four runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks over three innings.

"It was one of my worst outings of the year and it might have been for the best," Carpenter said. "I got out of the game in the third inning and Maddux was on the bench, so I got to talk to him for seven more innings. He told me a lot of things, and we went over the mental aspect of the game and what pitches he would throw in a situation. It put things in perspective for me, and I think that helped me out a lot."

The lesson paid off in another start against Montgomery in August when Carpenter gave up one earned run over seven innings and struck out eight.

One of the things Maddux suggests to pitchers is to spend some time with hitters and hitting coaches.

"When you're a pitcher, you have to know the mindset of a hitter to be successful as a pitcher," Carpenter said. "He's one of the smartest pitchers in the game, one of the smartest people in baseball. Any time you get a chance to talk to somebody like that, it's definitely worth it."

Anyone who has seen Maddux pitch knows he didn't overpower a hitter. He'll tell you the best pitch is a well-located fastball. Carpenter started focusing more on control than velocity.

"He said that at the beginning of his career, he threw hard and at the end of his career, he relied on location to be successful," Carpenter said. "He was at both ends of the spectrum."

Carpenter's season didn't end in early September at Iowa. He joined the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League and pitched in 10 games in relief. He finished with a 5.52 ERA, giving up nine runs on 16 hits and nine walks over 14 2/3 innings while striking out 14. It was the first time he'd pitched in relief in his young career and a learning experience.

He doesn't have one pitch to notch all the K's.

"When I was locating real well, my breaking ball was my strikeout pitch," Carpenter said during an interview prior to the start of the AFL. "I also got strikeouts on my fastball this year, too. There wasn't one pitch, it was just location of a quality pitch and that helped me."

Mark Riggins, the Cubs' new pitching coach, knows all about Carpenter. Riggins was the organization's Minor League pitching coordinator for the last three seasons. He grades the pitcher as possessing a good fastball, consistently firing at 93-95 mph, a good curve and adds Carpenter is making progress with his changeup.

There is one problem, though.

"He probably works harder than any pitcher in the farm system as far as conditioning," Riggins said. "He's over-working, and we've had to back him down to keep him from doing too much, especially at [Class A] Daytona last year where it's so hot."

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