Chris Carpenter returns to the mound tonight.
No, not that Chris Carpenter. He will be sidelined for another three months after bone chips were removed from his elbow in early May.
No. 1 Missouri (40-16)AT THE PLATE: DH Jacob Priday leads the Tigers with 10 HR, 55 RBIs, 112 total bases and a .549 slugging percentage. ON THE MOUND: RHP Aaron Crow starts tonight against Kent State. He leads the team in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. NOTES: MU’s 40 wins are the seventh highest in team history. This is coach Tim Jamieson’s second 40-win season at Mizzou.
No. 2 Miami (36-22)AT THE PLATE: 1B Yonder Alonso is hitting .465 with 4 HR, 23 RBIs and a .930 slugging percentage in his past 13 games. ON THE MOUND: SP Eric Erickson has won his past five decisions, compiling a 1.56 ERA. He is 10-3 on the year. NOTES: 2B Jemile Weeks was one of 11 players already selected to the 2007 USA Baseball National Team. He’s hitting .309 this year.
No. 3 Louisville (40-20)AT THE PLATE: OF Isaiah Howes leads the team with a .387 batting average, 89 hits, 15 HR and 157 total bases. ON THE MOUND: SP Zack Pitts and Justin Marks are dominant for the Cardinals. They are a combined 15-5 with 152 strikeouts. NOTES: The Cardinals’ 2.83 team ERA is fifth in the nation.
No. 4 Kent State (33-24)AT THE PLATE: 3B Andrew Davis .336 batting average, 78 hits, 16 doubles and 53 RBIs pace the Golden Flashes. ON THE MOUND: Although he didn’t start until April 22, SP Chris Carpenter is 4-0 with a 3.65 ERA. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90s. NOTES: The Golden Flashes received an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason because they won theMid-American Conference tournament.
This Chris Carpenter is Kent State’s ace. He’s scheduled to start against Missouri at 6:30 p.m. on the opening day of the NCAA regional in Columbia.
Kent State’s Carpenter has more in common with the Cardinal’s Cy Young winner then a name.
Both are tall. The younger is listed at 6 feet 4, but might be as tall as 6-5, while the elder Carpenter is listed at 6-6.
Both throw in the mid-90s and both have undergone, and recovered, from Tommy John surgery.
“I just threw a pitch,” Kent State’s Carpenter said, “and, like it’s happened to so many pitchers before, the ligament snapped and I had to have Tommy John surgery.”
That one pitch took the Golden Flashes’ best pitcher away from the diamond for the 2006 season. He was eased back this year, not starting until an April 22 game against Miami(Ohio). Before then, the sophomore hadn’t started a game since May 8, 2005.
Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said the team wasn’t sure what to expect when its ace returned, but Carpenter’s hard work during recovery gave the Golden Flashes (33-24).
“He was throwing well on the side during the winter,” Stricklin said. “His first time he went live with hitters, he was throwing 93-95(mph), and it kind of took us back, ‘Wow, this kid has really taken the next step.’ He was a power arm as a freshman, before he got hurt, but nothing like that.
“We’re a little surprised about where his velocity has been, but on the same note, we’re not surprised because he has really worked hard. He’s changed his body, changed his work ethic, changed everything about him to become the pitcher he is.”
Carpenter said it was a long road back from surgery.
“When I came back from that, I was a little sore,” Carpenter said. “I went down to my doctor, and he had to open back up my arm. I had to have another surgery, which was basically to clean out scar tissue and stuff.
“I came back, and now I’m feeling stronger then ever.”
While his stats may not imply dominance right now (4-0, 3.65 ERA in 37 IP), Stricklin said Carpenter is electrifying on the mound.
“He’s a power arm,” Stricklin said. “He’s going to be 93-96 (mph), he’s got a lot of velocity. There’s going to be a lot of scouts here tomorrow night to see him.”
Kent State assistant director Aaron Chimenti said Baseball America is projecting Carpenter to get drafted in the sandwich round between the first and second rounds in next week’s MLB draft. Despite the presence of scouts from major league teams tonight, Carpenter said he’s focusing on more important things.
“I mean, a lot of scouts will be here,” he said after Kent State’s Thursday practice at Taylor Stadium. “But I’m here to win a tournament. That’ll (the draft) take care of itself.”
Stricklin said Carpenter’s presence on the mound carries over to the rest of his team.
“He’s been in our starting rotation the last five weeks,” Stricklin said, “and really our team has turned around once he started pitching for us. We kind of go with him. He’s got a lot of confidence.”
The coach said the Golden Flashes are looking for a strong outing from Carpenter to jump-start their tournament. While Kent State is the fourth seed in the four-team regional, the players said they hope they can pull off a streak this weekend, like No. 4 Missouri upsetting top-seed Pepperdine in the 2006 NCAA regional in Malibu.
“I didn’t have to tell them (about Missouri last year),” Stricklin said. “They all watched the regionals last year. Unfortunately, we were one of the teams on the bubble last year, and didn’t get an at-large bid.”
Kent State third baseman Andrew Davis said the success of last year’s Missouri team, along with his own experience, gives him confidence.
“My freshman year, we were a four-seed in the regional with Notre Dame,” Davis said. “They were ranked, like, fifth in the country, and we beat them the first game. So, I know it can happen, but I’m trying to tell the younger guys on the team that nothing is impossible in baseball.”
With Missouri’s ace Aaron Crow (8-3, 3.17) starting against Carpenter, it seems many Kent State players are looking forward to a pitchers’ duel.
“I think it’s going to certainly be a very good matchup,” Stricklin said. “We know Mr. Crow is very similar (to Carpenter). He’s a guy that throws with some velocity and pitches with three pitches, and I think Missouri plays with the same amount of confidence when he’s on the mound.”
Carpenter said he enjoys the challenge Missouri (40-16).
“They’re a great team, but we can’t back down,” he said. “Gotta go right at them. Pitch them like we’ve pitched everybody else, where we’ve had success. I’m just going to pound the strike zone and see what happens.”
Despite being a No. 4 seed, Kent State left fielder Anthony Gallas said this weekend marks a whole new season, a season starting with Kent State’s best pitcher on the rubber.
“I think that you can just throw the numbers away,” Gallas said. “I don’t think it means anything, because the guy we’re putting on the mound is going to be as good as anyone in the country.
“I think in baseball, it’s just who wants it more.”