Where is Chris Carpenter’s fastball?

After four starts, Chris Carpenter is 2-0 with 27 strikeouts and a 3.60 ERA. He’s also allowed 22 hits in 25 innings, walked seven, given up five homeruns and had back-to-back games of striking out 10 each time. Very good numbers (the strikeout total is tied for second in the National League) but none of his games so far have really seemed “Carp-like” – that dominant Cy Young winner we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

The last two games in particular, he’s relied on his breaking pitches a lot and not used his fastball much. Nothing wrong with that – I even rewound the DVR in the first inning last night just to watch again the curveball he threw to strike out Justin Upton. And obviously Carp’s been successful, since he’s never before had double-digit strikeouts in consecutive games. But what’s wrong with his fastball? Why can’t he throw it consistently?

It’s rare that I appreciate anything Al Hrabosky says, but he made a great point in last Friday’s game (which I’m paraphrasing here): our expectations for him are so high that we wonder what’s wrong with him, even though he was then in the midst of striking out 10 and allowing no earned runs in seven innings pitched. We think there must be something wrong because he’s not throwing his fastball well. (Of course, Hrabosky also said at the beginning of last night’s game that Carp’s 3.50 ERA was a little high. Do you think any Cubs pitchers would love to trade ERAs with Carp?)

But about that fastball – where has it gone? How can he now not throw well something that’s the backbone for every pitcher from the time he first stands on the mound in Little League? Those questions are part of the reason pitching, and pitchers, fascinate me. There’s so much involved with what they do, both physically and mentally. Will he have his “stuff” when he goes out there today? And, as Chris Carpenter has shown these past two games, sometimes having just some of your stuff working is all it takes to be successful (even if it’s not typical Carp dominant). With the work ethic and high expectations he has for himself, it’s easy to assume his fastball will soon return and continue to be one of the National League’s top pitchers.

Fastball or no, there is one thing I learned from watching him last night. After seeing those glares at Edwin Jackson, and hearing/reading his lips at what he was saying, I would never want Chris Carpenter mad at me.

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