Carp stays ready for Sox, could see time at 3B

Carp stays ready for Sox, could see time at 3B
February 23, 2014, 5:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There wasn't much that was impressive about Mike Carp last spring training, and when the Red Sox went six games into the season before Carp saw his first at-bat, it seemed he was an expendable spare part.
    
But looks were deceiving. In time, Carp became a key player off the bench for the Red Sox, hitting .296 with nine homers and 43 RBI in 216 at-bats. Among Red Sox hitters with 20 or more games played, Carp's OPS of .885 was second only to David Ortiz's .959.
    
"He probably exceeded our expectation with the line he up last year,'' acknowledged John Farrell. "To be in a bench role -- and he could probably start for other teams -- he's a good player. He accepted the role, formed a routine that allowed him to stay prepared. He was in the game. He knew when game situations came along, when pinch-hit opportunities might exist. He performed well under difficult situations.''
    
Typically, role players tend to be older and more experienced, and better suited to deal with the irregularities that come with being a reserve.
   
But at 27, Carp seemed to grasp the demands of the job almost immediately. It helped, too, that, in scouting him with Seattle, the Sox had seen something in his game that made his a good fit for coming off the bench.
    
"We had always evaluated his swing as a low-maintenance, compact swing,'' said Farrell, "that, in the role, had a better chance of being productive. We didn't know to what level it might be; we just felt like, with the shorter swing, there's less maintenance and he'd be able to put a good at-bat.''
    
In the magical 2013 season, Carp's late-game heroics sometimes stood out, with the biggest hit coming at Tropicana Field on Sept. 11, when Carp's grand slam gave the Sox a dramatic late-season win over Tampa Bay.
    
Beyond his production, Carp also brought the right attitude. He didn't campaign for more playing time or complain about being a reserve. He just stayed ready to deliver when called upon.
    
"That probably has much to do with our success as a team -- (bench players') acceptance of it and working to be prepared,'' said Farrell. "He had the benefit of other guys who were veterans -- Johnny (Gomes) and David (Ross) -- that have been in that role. He could pick their brain on how and what to do to stay sharp.
    
"But it comes down to setting his own ego aside and doing the best he's able to do in that role. I just marvel at his ability to sit for two or three days and be able to come off the bench and put up very good at-bats.''
    
Carp understood his responsibility when he arrived a year ago and had no delusions about his role.
    
"When you look at the team Ben (Cherington) put together last year,'' Carp said, "and what kind of team we had, those (starters) were going to play. For me to get 200 or so at-bats, that was more than I thought I was going to get at the beginning of the season. It's a tough pill to swallow at some points, but at the same time, you don't get an opportunity to play on a team like this.
    
"I get to shadow Big Papi, get to learn from Shane Victorino and (Jacoby) Ellsury, two Gold Glove outfielders . . . It was a good learning experience about winning, how to play winning baseball and how to carry yourself as an experience. I understood, 'Hey, this is my role right now. I can only control what I can control.' Two-hundred at-bats later, I had a ring on my finger.''
    
This spring, with depth options behind Will Middlebrooks limited, Carp will see some work at third base. It's a position he played some in high school and for a dozen or so games in his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League.
   
"As long as my bat can play,'' said a smiling Carp, welcoming the opportunity to play a bit more. "Whatever we can do to help that along, I'm in favor of. It's not new to me. It's something to keep an eye on and see what I can do. Whatever I can do to get a few more at-bats is fine with me. If I can get 30-40 more at-bats (because of that), it's going to help out a  lot.
    
"Thirty or 40 more at-bats . . .that could turn into a lot of things.''
    
As was proven last year.