Needing steady help for their bullpen, the Nationals added a veteran hard-throwing right-hander to the mix Thursday, acquiring 29-year-old reliever David Carpenter from the Yankees for minor league infielder Tony Renda. Carpenter struggled with the Yankees this season but posted a 2.63 ERA in two seasons with the Braves in 2013-2014. The Nationals took a low-risk gamble for the chance to fix Carpenter.
The mostly-inexperienced and patchwork Nationals bullpen has been inconsistent this season. They have a major league-worst 6.00 ERA over the past two weeks. Overall, the relief corps has a 3.64 ERA, 19th best in the majors, over 178 innings. The Nationals vaunted rotation, dealing with inconsistency and injuries, has logged only 344 innings, 21st in the majors, putting strain on a bullpen with relievers in new roles. Drew Storen and Matt Thornton are the only relievers with an ERA under three. Fifteen different pitchers have pitched out of the bullpen this season.
The Yankees designated Carpenter for assignment on June 3 after he posted a 4.82 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. They acquired the 6-foot-2 right-hander from Atlanta prior to this season with the seventh inning in mind. But after allowing only three runs in April, he allowed seven earned runs in 9 1/3 May innings and opponents hit .368 against him.
Carpenter’s fastball has averaged just under 95 mph this season, and he has performed equally against righties and lefties in his career — the former hit .263 against him, the latter .261. With the Yankees, Carpenter struggled with command: his strikeout rate (5.3 K/9) and strike percentage dropped while his walk rate ticked up (3.4 BB/9). He has career 9.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 rates, but during his best season, in which he posted a 1.78 ERA with the Braves in 2013, he had a 10.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 rate.
“A big fastball,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “Fastball, slider. We’ve see a lot of him the last couple years in Atlanta. He’s got some experience. He knows our division well. It won’t be something that’s new for him. He’ll have that comfort level within our division and the teams that we play. We can see him in the back of the bullpen, seventh or later. He’s comfortable with that, too.”
The Nationals scouted Carpenter and noticed that he was throwing more sliders this year than in the past. “A strikeout pitch not necessarily a strike pitch for him,” Williams said. “It’ll help him that he’s going to be familiar with the guys he’s going to face, too.”
Three encouraging signs about Carpenter: he induced more groundballs with the Yankees this season than years past, his velocity is still good and his swing-and-miss rate has held steady. Another added bonus, if Carpenter works out: he is under team control through the 2017 season.
The Nationals moved outfielder Nate McLouth to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Carpenter on the 40-man roster. They have not yet created space on the 25-man roster, waiting until Carpenter can join the team, which he is expected to do during their four-game series in Milwaukee. Carpenter has been throwing at home in West Virginia since he was designated for assignment by the Yankees.
“It’s not like he’s taken that time off and has to re-up and get going again,” Williams said. “He should be fresh and ready to go.”
Renda, rated as the Nationals’ 12th-best prospect by Baseball America, is hitting .267 with a .673 OPS in 54 games with Class AA Harrisburg. Renda, a well-liked minor league teammate known more for his contact bat and work ethic than his glove, hit .307 in Class A Potomac last season. The Nationals essentially gave up a minor leaguer several notches down the organizational infield depth chart for a veteran reliever they hope to fix.