PEORIA, Ariz. – Mike Carp is something of a reclamation project, a major league player built from used parts as created by ... well, Christopher Michael Carp.
Seventeen months ago, he had literally limped through his second big-league call-up, playing 13 September games, hitting .171 and winding up on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis.
Prospects for the then-24-year-old? Minimal.
So Carp decided to build a leaner, sleeker candidate, one with broader shoulders, a narrower waist and quicker bat.
And damned if didn’t work.
What the new, improved Carp did last year was establish himself as a big-league hitter – highlighted by 25 RBI in August and a 20-game hitting streak – batting a solid .276 in 79 games, with 17 doubles, 12 home runs and 46 RBI.
Figure that as half a season, do the math and ...
Carp went back to work in October, tinkering with the creature he had created.
“My weight didn’t change this offseason, but my body fat dropped. I wanted to get a little more explosive with my first step, thinking of my outfield defense,” Carp said. “The funny thing is, the same work really translated to my swing.
“I’m hitting everything on the barrel, even if it’s only batting practice. That is the plan – hit every pitch I swing at hard, with backspin, and find some gaps.”
Manager Eric Wedge, who assisted Carp last season, is impressed.
“He set the tone for a lot of his teammates last year with the offseason work he did and the results it got him,” Wedge said. “He came in this spring in even better shape.
“He gives you a professional at-bat, he knows how to get a run home with an out. Carp has made himself a dangerous hitter.”
If the season began today, the Mariners’ lineup would start something like this:
Yes, the same Carp who seemed to have little future with Seattle just months ago, could well open the 2012 season batting cleanup for the Mariners.
“I did a lot of tee work and soft-toss drills this offseason, worked on my hand-eye coordination, squaring the ball up,” Carp said.
“You can learn a lot about your swing hitting off a tee. Then you have to translate that into the game. It’s more a feel thing than anything else. You feel which pitch locations you have to work on.”
It was a rare day in the offseason he didn’t spend most of his time working on his strength, agility and quickness. Carp had become a driven man.
“After last season, I have more motivation. Now, finally, it’s up to me,” Carp said. “Before it was roster numbers, business decisions. Now it’s in my hands, and I spent all offseason working to make sure I stick.
“Last year in Tacoma, it took some time to get in sync with my new body. I was leaner, quicker, stronger but had the same habits I’d had earlier in my career.”
When it came together for him, Carp batted .342 as a Rainier, with 21 home runs and 64 RBI in 66 games – with a 22-game hitting streak. By July, the Mariners couldn’t find a reason not to call him up.
“One of the things I’ll remember most from last year is Eric Wedge telling me when I came up that last time, ‘You’re in there every day. If you don’t do well, it’s on you.’ He gave me the chance to play every day,” Carp said.
“I had confidence, but last August proved I could do what I’d done in Triple-A in the big leagues. It was a long season, but I didn’t want it to end. It was like a fairy tale.”
Carp was in the middle of his offseason work in November when he heard that close friend and teammate Greg Halman had been killed, stabbed to death in his Netherlands home.
Carp flew there for the funeral, came home and headed for a tattoo artist.
“Greg had a lot of tattoos, and the one I liked most was of the world as a baseball,” Carp said. “He’d played everywhere, in the world games, in Amsterdam. I used to tell him, ‘If I ever steal one of your tattoos, that’s the one.’
“He was my best friend, I thought this was a good tribute to him.”
Carp rolled up his left sleeve, exposing a long tattoo for Halman. He doesn’t need it to remember.
“I haven’t had a day go by without thinking of him. I wanted to get a new car and he’d emailed me that he couldn’t wait to drive around in it,” Carp said.
“Every time I get in that car now, I think of him.
“Greg left a mark on me, an impression so strong that I’ll live the rest of my life as if he were part of it.”
Get more news online from staff writer Larry LaRue at blog.thenewstribune.com/ mariners