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Braves reliever David Carpenter reflects on his strange place in Red Sox history

05.29.14 at 8:17 pm ET
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David Carpenter‘s Red Sox tenure is easy enough to forget. He spent six weeks in the organization and never spent a moment in the team’s uniform. Yet he was an oft-overlooked component of a franchise-changing deal.

When the Red Sox acquired John Farrell from the Blue Jays, they had to part with a player — Mike Aviles — in order to do so because the skipper was in the middle of a three-year contract. But Major League baseball‘s rules required that the Blue Jays could not simply release Farrell from his contract as compensation; Toronto also had to offer a player in return. And so, Carpenter — a pitcher whom the Blue Jays had acquired from the Astros on July 20, 2012, and who occupied a spot on the very fringes of Toronto’s 40-man roster after allowing nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in 2012 — was sent to the Red Sox.

“[The trade was] about as strange as you can get in baseball,” Carpenter said from the Braves clubhouse at Fenway Park on Thursday. “I really didn’t have any contact with the front office. My agent was presented a contract. Talked with Farrell for maybe 10 minutes one day, just kind of asking if I was going to have a chance to compete for a spot in the bullpen and he kind of assured me, yeah, you’re going to come into camp and have a chance to compete.

“I looked at it as the next step and opportunity in my career to find a place to want to call home where I can establish myself if someone is finally going to give me a chance to prove that I belong here.”

Carpenter started planning to spend spring training with the Sox in Fort Myers, but he quickly had to reconfigure his itinerary. After being a part of the sixth trade involving a manager in baseball history, he quickly became a footnote to it.

The Sox, who acquired his rights on Oct. 21, 2012, designated Carpenter for assignment on Nov. 20, 2012, on a day where they needed 40-man roster spots to protect six players (Allen WebsterChristian VazquezAlex WilsonSteven Wright, Alex Hassan and Dan Butler) from the Rule 5 draft. On Nov. 30, Carpenter’s career took a dramatic turn.

“Next thing you know, you get designated and have the best thing that can possibly happen, get picked up by the Braves,” said Carpenter.

Through 2012, Carpenter had shown a power mix of a mid-90s fastball and slider but inconsistent command. But like some other converted position players (Carpenter had been a catcher in the Cardinals system from 2006-08 before being moved to the mound in late-2008), he made a hard-to-predict developmental jump in 2013. The Braves hit on a waiver wire lottery ticket; the Red Sox did not benefit from a player’s surprise leap forward.

Carpenter (then 27) opened 2013 in Triple-A but made it to the big leagues by early May, where he became a dominant late-innings contributor to the Braves. After he walked 29 in his first 60 big league innings in 2011 and 2012, he started pouring strikes for the Braves and getting tons of swings and misses. In 56 games spanning 65 2/3 innings, he had a 1.78 ERA with 10.1 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings.

“It was a matter of knowing that somebody wanted you here. I didn’t really feel that the last two organizations I was really with. Once I got over here, a lot of guys saw the ability I had, had confidence in me. When you have it from your teammates, it really starts to really grow and you’re able to perform,” said Carpenter. “You see a lot of faces you looked up to as a little kid — [Greg] Maddux, [John] Smoltz, [Tom] Glavine coming back, offering their advice. You take that information and try to run with it. That’s what I tried to do last year, especially having some of the guys on the team — McCann, Hudson, a lot of really, really good guys to be able to get as much information as you can from. Things just really seemed to work out. We had to work on a few things mechanically. It kind of took off from there.”

In a 2013 season in which bullpen depth nearly proved an Achilles heel for the Red Sox, Carpenter’s monster performance was hard to ignore. But for Carpenter — who has once again been dominant this year, with a 2.42 ERA, 10.9 strikeouts per nine and 2.0 walks per nine in his first 22 games of the year — the experience of watching the Red Sox march to a championship (under the stewardship of Farrell) likewise offered an intriguing “what-if.”

“[Opening Day closer Joel] Hanrahan and some of the other guys went down with injuries over here. Watching Koji [Uehara] do what he did, that was unbelievable. It was definitely something to kind of watch. But I’m happy to be where I’m at,” said Carpenter, who has become the Braves’ primary setup man. “I’d like to think it worked out for both of us.”

Read More: Blue Jays, Braves, david carpenter, John Farrell
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