CLEVELAND – You know things are going well when the 25th man smashes two doubles and a triple in his first start of the season.
That’s Mike Carp, who went 3 for 3 in Boston’s 6-3 win over the Indians Wednesday night. The three extra-base hits were a career high.
You really can’t call him a journeyman because he’s basically only been with one other team, the Mariners (though he went through the Mets system), but he’s always been in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s always someone ahead of him preventing him from breaking through.
Carp has power and at 27 he’s still young. On this night, batting ninth in the Red Sox order, his ability came shining through. The Sox dealt for Carp after he was designated for assignment by the Mariners in spring training. The Sox were looking for him to occasionally spell Mike Napoli at first base.
Wednesday night was one of those nights.
Carp doubled to lead off the second inning, doubled to lead off the fourth, and in the fifth he tripled to center field, driving in Stephen Drew with Boston’s fourth run and extending Boston’s lead to 4-0. Jonny Gomes pinch hit for Carp in the seventh.
The Sox have had a smorgasbord of offensive stars this season. Carp had been kept hidden deep on roster, but with Justin Masterson pitching, manager John Farrell thought he would load up with lefthanded hitters, even though Carp went 0 for 4 against the former Sox righthander Aug. 23, 2011, at Progressive Field.
“He’s pitched me tough in the past,” Carp said. “I’ve faced him quite a few times in the minor leagues and up here. I had a rough day [0 for 4, two strikeouts] against him here two years ago so this time I just took a short approach and went opposite field. He gave me a couple of pitches that stayed up in the zone that I was able to hammer.’’
It’s easy to forget Carp, because he didn’t knock anyone’s socks off in spring training. He hit .178 (8 for 45) and there was a debate about whether the team should keep him or Lyle Overbay, who ended up with the Yankees and has played well as their primary first baseman with Mark Teixeira injured.
But Carp made the 25-man roster for Opening Day. He has been pretty safe, but with David Ortiz returning Friday, Carp’s playing time likely will be cut even more. The Sox are likely to send Jackie Bradley Jr. to Pawtucket or Portland.
Carp likely will survive, but with Ortiz the primary DH and Napoli at first base, Carp won’t get many at-bats. The Red Sox also have the option of using Daniel Nava at first base, and he’s a switch-hitter.
Carp grew up in Lakewood, Calif., and was drafted by the Mets in the ninth round in 2004. He showed immediate promise at 19 when he hit 19 homers for Hagerstown, the Mets’ Single-A affiliate. He continued to hit for power through Double A.
In the offseason of 2008, after collecting 17 homers and 72 RBIs, he was traded to the Mariners as part of a three-team deal.
Fittingly, his first grand slam came Sept. 11 at Progressive Field. But Carp found himself behind Justin Smoak in Seattle. After the Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels, there was no role for Carp and he was dealt to Boston.
One of the toughest things to do is come off the bench and hit. Carp didn’t do it well for the Mariners last season, hitting just .213 with five homers and 20 RBIs. The season prior he had his best output with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 290 at-bats, a sign that more work would lead to more production. But so far, Carp hasn’t had the chance to get consistent playing time.
It’s a Catch-22 for a guy like this because there’s power waiting to be unleashed, but no chance to get into a good flow.
“It’s a tough job, but I’m better prepared. The coaching staff has been doing a great job of giving me a heads-up on when I’m going to play and getting me some work and letting me know I’m going to play,’’ said Carp. “The other day I was facing [Felix] Doubront in live BP, which helped keep me focused.’’
Yet, Carp has had to watch for almost two weeks.
“Just been watching these guys play for a couple of weeks and it’s been fun the way they’ve been swinging the bat. To get an opportunity to contribute is a good day. Any time you get a triple it’s nice. You don’t get too many of those,” Carp said. “I just have to be ready to go and stay sharp when my number is called.’’
Carp, the first Sox batter with three or more extra-base hits from the No. 9 spot since Wily Mo Pena went 4 for 5 July 26, 2007, isn’t feeling sorry for himself. He was rescued from Seattle and he knew what to expect with Boston.
“We brought these guys in and their job is to play,” Carp said. “As summer time comes around and it gets hot and guys need a break, we’ll get our at-bats. It’s a long year.”
No, John Farrell didn’t have a Joe Morgan-like hunch when he inserted Carp in the lineup but “I didn’t know that he’d do that. He’s a good fastball hitter. We talked about getting lefties in the lineup. To get a base hit inside the third base bag and get things rolling for us was big. He did a great job,” Farrell said.
Right now, with the Sox 10-4, every decision appears to be the right one. Inserting Carp may not be classified as a stroke of genius, but on an April night before 10,282 in Cleveland, Carp helped win a game.