Long before Mike Carp came up to the Seattle Mariners for a second time this season and produced impressive offensive numbers, something more important preceded that success.
A new mindset.
Carp, 25, understands why he’s getting playing time now when he wasn’t before. He knows why patience can be as important to a young player as approach.
“Before, it seemed like it was never going to happen,” he said. “But now it’s all making sense. I should have kept a better ear open the first couple of times around.”
Carp has been up and down the past three seasons, including twice this year, but his latest stint with the Mariners has been by far his best.
Since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on July 18, he has received regular playing time in left field, DH and first base, and by no coincidence he has produced. He has at least one hit in 12 of 14 games and reached base in all 14. He’s batting .357 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and 13 RBIs this time up.
“I think last year he pressed a little bit. I think he tried to come up here with a false confidence attitude-wise,” said first-base coach Mike Brumley, the only member of the staff who was here last year. “Now he’s a lot more relaxed, getting more into the flow of the games and not thinking so much that, ‘This is my opportunity.’”
It’s not easy for a young player to dwell on anything else, that if he doesn’t perform the first time he’s called up he might never get another chance. It’s a mentality that often ends in failure, but one that’s next to impossible to avoid.
“You’ve got to have patience,” Carp said. “It didn’t seem like it at the time when everything was going wrong. But when it’s going right you don’t think about it. My mindset is a whole lot different this time around.”
Carp has maintained the same swing, same good eye at the plate and approach to at-bats he had before. But he said the key this time is that he’s patient and prepared.
His patience developed from the natural maturation process that occurs within young players, but also after talks with veteran players and his minor league instructors, particularly Tacoma Rainiers manager Darrin Brown and hitting coach Alonzo Powell. They told him not to fret over the lack of playing time he got early this season after he came up.
“Chone Figgins and a couple of veteran guys told me that it happened to them,” Carp said. “They told me, ‘You’re young, you’re here. Don’t take it as a bad thing. Just go out and play hard when you get your chance.’ When I was down in Triple-A with Brownie and Zo, they told me the same thing. Zo was one of those guys who had to wait around and his chance came in Japan. He said to me, ‘Keep playing. Something’s going to happen.’”
When it did happen, when the Mariners sent struggling outfielder Carlos Peguero back to Tacoma and brought Carp back up on July 18, he was prepared. He still had the same swing and good eye at the plate that he’d shown two years ago in his first stint in the majors, but he also was prepared, especially physically, to handle the day-to-day duty of regular playing time.
Carp admittedly allowed himself to get too heavy last year, when he batted .257 in 409 at-bats with Tacoma and only .171 in 35 at-bats with the Mariners.
Determined not to let his physical condition become a reason for poor play, Carp dedicated himself in the offseason to a better diet and a workout regimen.
“I’m not as tired, I’ve got a lot of energy, I can play the outfield every day, I’m faster,” Carp said. “Everything has kind of clicked together this year.”
The trigger to his physical and mental changes?
“Last year,” Carp said bluntly. “I just said, ‘Something’s keeping me from being where I want to be. I’ve got to do whatever I can to get there.’ I know physically if I’m in better shape – stronger, faster, quicker – that’s going to help my game and give me a better opportunity.”
Brumley, comparing Carp this year with what he saw last year, said he’s not the same player.
“He’s so much more relaxed,” Brumley said. “He’s easier to talk to about the preparation of the game. He’s not so worried about himself. It’s about how he can contribute to the team today.”
When a young player can approach the game that way, he gives himself a true chance to succeed. That’s what Carp has done, especially in his second stint with the Mariners this year.
“It was tough before, but you have to realize that it’s not your time, not your opportunity, not your moment,” Carp said.