LAFAYETTE — Whatever feels good for senior right-hander Eric Carter in the bullpen on any given night, that’ll be the pitch he’ll rely on when he takes the mound.
He reckoned it might’ve been the humid air Tuesday night that made his breaking ball a little bit sharper than usual. No matter the circumstance, it was going to take a larger role than usual.
Carter took over in the eighth inning of a blow out win against Tulane and blew away the Green Wave batters. He faced eight of them, and five struck out, including the last batter of the game who was frozen by a knee-buckling breaking ball.
It was similar to his previous two outings against Georgia Southern and Arkansas State, in which he combined to strike out 10 of the 17 batters he faced in 5.1 innings of relief.
Really, it was similar to a lot of Carter’s outings this season, which is somewhat surprising considering how dissimilar it was to many of his outings in his first season with the club.
“I think last year I made excuses for myself,” Carter said.
Despite having one of the more electric fastballs on the team — the Tigue Moore radar gun regularly pegs his fastball around 94 miles per hour — Carter wasn’t able to carve out a role on a young pitching staff after transferring from the junior college ranks.
That junior college was all the way up in Carter’s home state of Utah, though. This was where his excuse-making started.
He thought to himself about the difficulties of transferring across country. His junior college league in Utah was a wood bat league where his two-seam fastball could saw off right-handed hitters, which was much more fun than the line drive doubles it was producing with the Cajuns.
And with the excuses came a rough first year.
Carter appeared in only six games and largely struggled outside of an outstanding start against Southern where he struck out 11 in seven innings. In that outing, Carter estimated 90 of the 94 pitches he threw were fastballs. His other five outings spanned 13 innings, and in them he allowed eight earned runs.
The issue wasn’t necessarily his stuff, though he’s since added a cut fastball that’s made him much more difficult to hit this season. The issue was something else. Look for the common word in these next three paragraphs.
“Last year, he didn’t have the cutter like he has now,” said coach Tony Robichaux. “That’s been the biggest difference maker. But with the cutter, it’s also been his mindset.”
“I think it’s his mindset,” said catcher Nick Thurman.
“Last year, I could’ve put up the same performances if my mindset would’ve been better,” Carter said.
Carter had the physical tools, but he wasn’t yet ready to own up to that fact mentally. That has changed this season.
“Last year, he was kind of, not timid, but he was scared to mess up,” Thurman said. “This year he’s not scared to mess up, he’s just going out there and throwing his best stuff.”
Part of that best stuff now includes the aforementioned cut fastball.
It’s a pitch Carter has been playing around with for a years but never had the confidence to throw in a game.
He called it a “two out of seven pitch” that would do what it was supposed to do twice, then behave like something else the other five times. It also barely moved from his perspective, leading him to think it wasn’t game-ready.
But that has changed. He got some grip advice from teammate Will Bacon. The bullpen catcher told him it was a good pitch. Pitching coach Daniel Freeman told Robichaux that Carter picked up the pitch quickly, and its been part of his game arsenal for a couple weeks now.
Robichaux has noticed the difference it’s made for Carter, who has allowed just one earned run in his last six outings.
“His curveball is kind of a big looping breaking ball. It’ll lock you up, but the trouble with it is it’s not in the same tunnel as his fastball,” Robichaux said. “Now his cutter is traveling the same tunnel as his fastball, and he’s getting good quick because of that cutter.”
If the cutter is feeling good in the bullpen before he comes on, Carter will use it frequently. Or maybe his next outing will be a lot like Tuesday and his breaking ball will feel solid.
The one constant this year though is that he’s taking the mound knowing that whatever he has at his disposal on that specific day is going to get the job done. That’s truly been the difference.
“I changed my mindset on the field,” Carter said. “I said whenever I step between the lines, I want to expect success. That’s been what I’ve been able to find to this point.”