Chris Carpenter is starting tonight on only three days rest, while Matt Harrison hopes to do better than the shellacking he took in Game Four. Both pitchers will need to change up how they’re attacking hitters if they want to be successful.
Carpenter has already pitched twice against the Rangers in this series, and his results thus far have been solid: 13 IP, 4 runs, 8 strikeouts, and 14 baserunners. Split all of those numbers down the middle, and you essentially have how Carpenter has performed in each of his starts. He hasn’t dominated or imploded, but managed to hold back the Rangers’ offense while being consistently above average.
Although Carpenter’s results have been steady and consistent so far this series, the way he’s achieved those results has varied. Carpenter throws three main pitches — a sinker, cutter, and curveball — and he all but ignored his curveball in Game One, relying heavily on his sinker to get outs. He focused low in the zone, getting the Rangers to hit the ball into the ground and make easy outs.
In Game Five, Carpenter went to a more normal pitch selection for him. His sinker was the pitch he threw most often, but he used his cutter frequently too (around 30 percent) and used his curveball as his main out pitch (20 percent use vs. R; 30 percent vs. L). Also, Carpenter mixed velocities on his sinkers, throwing about half of them in the low 90s instead of the 88-89 MPH range. It wasn’t a huge change, but all these minor adjustments seemed to keep the Rangers just enough off-guard.
Coming back on only three days rest, how will Carpenter pitch tonight? The Rangers have seen all three of his pitches now, so I imagine Carpenter will have to use a strategy similar to Game Five: continue to mix all his pitches, change speeds, and keep the ball low in the zone. If he can keep the Rangers pounding the ball into the dirt with his sinker and curveball, he should be able to neutralize their offense for the most part.
Harrison is an interesting case, as he got pummeled in his first (and only) start this series; in Game Three, he allowed five runs (three earned) over 3.2 IP, struck out three, and allowed seven baserunners and one home run. So how will he adapt this time out? Will he change how he pitched?
Before we delve into that, though, here’s a quick refresher on what Harrison throws:
Harrison has a wide repertoire of pitches: a four-seam fastball (93 MPH), two-seam fastball (92 MPH), cutter (87 MPH), changeup (83 MPH), and curveball (78 MPH). Since he’s a left-handed starter, he primarily uses his two fastball and cutter against same-handed hitters, and he rarely uses his cutter against righties. Instead, against opposite-handed hitters, he throws his fastballs slightly less often and uses his curveball and changeup around 15% of the time each.
This may seem odd to say, but I see reasons for optimism about Harrison tonight based on his pitch selection in Game Three. Harrison stayed pretty true to his normal gameplan in Game Three. He threw exclusively two-seam fastballs and cutters against lefties, and he used his two-seam fastball and changeup frequently against righties. His two-seamer was very effective in generating ground balls (80 percent grounder rate), and his changeup got lots of swings and misses (33 percent). So despite the bad results, his main pitches looked effective against the Cardinals.
So what does he need to do to improve tonight? Harrison didn’t use his curveball or four-seam fastball much at all against righties, so it was easy for right-handed hitters to sit on his two-seamer when ahead in the count and his changeup when behind. He’ll need to mix his pitches better tonight and have more faith in his curveball, or else he’s going to be an easy pitcher to predict again. But if he manages to break out a few more of his pitches, there were enough good signs about his two-seamer and changeup that I think he could be quite effective.
Whoops, sorry Rangers fans…I’ll redact that last statement. I’m still smarting from the last time I predicting a pitcher to perform well in a matchup this postseason, so I wouldn’t want to jinx anything.