A wacky baseball season has seen the Orioles, Nationals and Reds spend significant time in first-place, while the Phillies and Red Sox have occupied the basement.
Here’s one team to watch this summer: St. Louis.
Trinity High of Manchester graduate Chris Carpenter, hampered with nerve-related shoulder weakness during spring training, is making another comeback with the Cardinals. The two-time World Series champion pitched against hitters in a side session on Friday, completing a strenuous workout against live bats for the first time since March.
The 37-year-old is scheduled to throw two more similar sessions before testing his arm and shoulder in a rehab assignment in the minors. Last fall, Carpenter hoisted the Cardinals onto his back, leading them to a surprise World Series crown.
Blue Jays outfielder Ben Francisco, who has joined the Fisher Cats to finish his own rehab assignment (hamstring), was a member of the Phillies last season as Carpenter mowed down the Phils in the Division Series.
“Great series. You couldn’t get any better unless we had won,” Francisco said. “It was great for the fans, especially going into Game 5 with (Carpenter and Roy Halladay) pitching their brains. Carpenter was a little better than Doc that night.”
An on-the-mend Carpenter has made headlines for another reason recently. He was named one of the game’s top “trash talkers” in a Men’s Journal survey that polled 100 major leaguers. Carpenter was ranked third behind Orlando Hudson and Nyjer Morgan. In September, Carpenter and Morgan had a heated verbal exchange that led to a bench-clearing incident between the Cards and Brewers.
Francisco said Carpenter doesn’t have a reputation as a trash talker.
“I just admire the way he competes on the mound. He steps up when his team needs him. I can’t speak to what happened with the Brewers. I’ve never had any problems with him and nobody on my team has ever had any problems with him,” Francisco said.
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SMALL WORLD: Francisco played for Cleveland-affiliate Akron in 2004 and made a visit to Gill Stadium of Manchester, where the Fisher Cats played their inaugural season. Back then, lit up outfield signage was a big problem for hitters.
“I just remember the white signs right behind the pitcher’s mound. I think we were one of the first teams to play there. It was tough. You couldn’t see the ball. It definitely was a quirk in a minor-league stadium that was tough getting used to,” Francisco said.
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FISHER TRACKS: Francisco was acquired in a trade for Fisher Cats reliever Frank Gailey last winter. Gailey pitched against the Fisher Cats as member of the Reading Phillies last week ... Old friend Manny Mayorson, who spent four seasons with the Fisher Cats, returned this weekend as a member of the Senators. The infielder holds the New Hampshire record for most hits (329) in club history.
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FARM REPORT: Winnisquam Regional of Tilton graduate Jordan Cote, assigned to the Gulf Coast League Yankees, earned a win in his first professional appearance. Cote pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out five. No, he didn’t receive the game ball for notching his first pro win — but he was pretty pumped about the performance.
“I felt awesome. As far as the game goes, I threw the ball the bfest I have all spring. I kept the fastball downhill and pounded the zone all day, which opened up the off-speed pitches when I needed. The big key was the swings and misses on fastballs,” he said.
Fellow GCL Yankees righty Joey Maher of Bedford pitched three innings, giving up two earned runs in his pro debut ... Nashua South product Kevin Nolan leads the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays, who took a .325 average into the weekend, leads his team with 87 hits.
Southern New Hampshire University product Tim Flight, drafted earlier this month by the Yankees, made his pro debut Friday night for Staten Island of the New York-Penn League. The lefty got the start against Rays affiliate Hudson Valley and tossed three innings, giving up two runs on two hits.
Jeff Locke from Kennett High of Conway is due from another promotion to the majors, posting a 4-2 record (2.73 ERA) in his past 10 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates). Lefties are batting .198 against the southpaw.
Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.