August 26, 2011 in Sports

Mariners fans appreciate Carp’s fantastic return

Larry Stone Seattle Times
 

SEATTLE – The appreciation for Mike Carp’s batting surge has reached the ownership level.

That is to say, fantasy owners who had the foresight to add Carp when he came back from Triple-A Tacoma in mid-July for his second stint with the Mariners are ecstatic over his production. And they let him know all the time.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘Thanks for helping me out. I might be the sleeper to win the league this year,’ ”Carp said in the visiting Cleveland clubhouse earlier this week.

“That’s all fun, but I don’t think about that. I’m not thinking about trying to help out my buddies’ fantasy team. I want to go out and get two or three hits a game. That’s my whole plan every day.”

For a three-week stretch, it seemed like Carp was doing just that. After tearing up the Pacific Coast League by hitting .343 in 66 games with 21 homers, 64 runs batted in and a 1.060 on-base plus slugging percentage, Carp ran off a 20-game hit streak that ended Monday.

In 33 games since returning from Tacoma, Carp is hitting .326 with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a .912 OPS. That’s despite cooling off the past week during an eight-game stretch in which he’s hit .176.

The upshot is that Carp, at age 25, in his fourth stint in the big leagues, after nearly 3,000 minor league at-bats, appears to have finally clinched his spot in not only the Mariners’ present, but their future.

And management – the real thing, not fantasy – is appreciative of his perseverance.

“The thing I admire about Mike, and respect, is that every time Mike’s gone back (to the minors), this guy’s hit,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Sometimes, guys go back with their tails between their legs. Sometimes you wonder if they’re going to be what their minor league numbers say they are.

“In this case, he’s gone back and continued to hit, and kept on hitting. It’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to pay attention to me.’ And now he’s getting his chance, and good for him.”

Last year was a crossroads for Carp, who hit 29 homers at Tacoma and yet didn’t seem to be in the Mariners’ plans. He admits he wondered if his chance would come.

He decided one area in which he could be proactive was conditioning. Over the winter, he monitored his diet, stepped up his cardio work, and dropped from 232 pounds to 205. He’s maintained that weight all season and believes it has been a huge factor in his breakout season.

“I think it’s really paid off,” he said. “I’m a lot quicker in the field. I can run better. I was even stealing bags in Tacoma (six stolen bases in eight attempts).”

The next challenge was convincing a new coaching staff, including manager Eric Wedge, that he was a player who could help the Mariners. Wedge admits he was initially skeptical about Carp’s defensive skills, a viewpoint that has changed as he’s watched Carp hold his own at first base, while replacing injured Justin Smoak, and left field.

“Now I can be completely honest with you: He’s surprised the hell out of me defensively,” Wedge said this week. “Because I wasn’t real high on him at first base in spring training. That’s why I wanted him to go in the outfield. But he’s really stepped up with the opportunity at first base. Because of that, now we’re looking at a guy who can play first base, the outfield and, of course, DH too.”

Wedge said he tried to keep an open mind in spring training as he assessed all the Mariners. That included weighing the opinions of holdover staff, and then coming to his own conclusion.

“No different than any other player, everybody liked him,” Wedge said of Carp. “Some liked him more than others. But kudos to him, man. He’s taken advantage of this opportunity. We’ll find out in time. We’ve got another five or six weeks and we’ll find out how real it is.”


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