Relievers Micah Carpenter and Matthew Gorst have been lights out at the end of games
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The closing tandem has made short work of those two innings and, heading into Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh, has the No. 24 Yellow Jackets boasting a 20-0 record when leading after seven innings, 21-0 when leading after eight.
That someone is NOT going to be Tech Head Coach Danny Hall, although he’ll admit to his duo’s work.
“Both those guys have thrown well,” said Hall. “I like the way both of them attack the hitters and they both have good breaking balls.”
Gorst and Carpenter may be different pitchers -- Carpenter, a freshman righty, powers his way with a fastball/slider 1-2, preceding Gorst, the junior righthander, who sets up a devastating cutter with his fastball -- but both share effectiveness putting up zeroes. They also share ignorance of the extent of that effectiveness.
“I don’t mind knowing it but I did not know that,” said Gorst. “That’s awesome. If it’s close in the eighth or ninth we feel confident that we’ll win the game.”
“I had no idea. I guess that’s pretty cool,” added Carpenter, with a laugh. “It’s cool being a freshman being able to contribute, get an opportunity.”
Both contributed to Friday’s 6-3 win over the Panthers, the Jackets’ third straight in this five-game week and their 11th win in 14 games. Gorst recorded his eighth save, throwing 1 ⅓ innings of one-hit ball in lowering his ERA to 0.46 (one earned run in 19 ⅔ innings), while Carpenter recorded two-thirds of an inning but scuffled a little, allowing an RBI double between two walks, the first appearance all season in which he’s allowed more than one walk.
Contributing when called upon has been a theme for the pair or righties in 2016.
Gorst came into his junior season, recording four wins and a save -- three of those wins and the save coming last season -- but showed no signs of being the closer. Opponents hit .262 off him, .271 last season, and he had walked as many hitters as he struck out (48 of each).
He changed all that once told he’d close. He’s limited opponents to a .136 batting average, surrendering nine hits in his 16 appearances, and he’s done little to help them out, striking out 28 while walking only three. ACC opponents are struggling even more, batting .087, with two hits, nine punchouts and one base on balls.
“[Throwing strikes is] a big difference but he also has a really, really good cutter that he worked on and he’s perfected,” said Hall. “It’s been a strikeout pitch for him but he’s throwing strikes with everything.”
Gorst sits second in the ACC with saves (one off the Conference lead), is tied for third in appearances with 16, and 15 games finished (also one away from the lead). But Gorst isn’t thinking about individual accolades or even about what’s made the difference in 2016.
In fact, he’s not thinking at all and that has made all the difference.
“I’m not over-thinking anything anymore,” he said. “Going out there it’s just playing catch. If I throw a bad pitch it’s behind me and I just go at the hitter with the next one.”
There haven’t been a lot of bad pitches but there has been a new one, the cutter.
The pitch became a part of Gorst’s arsenal following off-season surgery to clean out bonespurs in his elbow when doctors instructed him not to throw breaking pitches.
“I wanted to start throwing a pitch that moved rather than a straight pitch,” he said. “So I started messing around with a cutter because they said I could throw it. It’s just evolved from there.”
Opponents have devolved. It began on March 7.
The previous day, against Western Carolina, Gorst allowed a run and two hits -- the first run he’d allowed all season and his first multi-hit game. He had allowed a hit in five of his first six games (six overall), covering eight innings and while he struck out 13 with two walks, he’d thrown 119 pitches, 19.8 per appearance, four times making at least 20 pitches.
In the 10 appearances since, covering 11 ⅔ innings, Gorst has not allowed a run, surrendered only three hits and a walk, struck out 15 and issued but one free pass. He’s also cut down his pitches, throwing 151 total pitches (15.1 pitches per appearance) and only twice surpassing the 20-pitch mark.
He’s confident and comfortable a perfect combination for a closer.
“I’ve really settled into it,” said Gorst. “I like the routine that I have every day. I get to do the same thing, stretch at the same time, throw at the same time. It’s nice knowing when I’m going to go in the game.”
A pretty good indicator of Gorst coming in is Carpenter coming out.
The freshman from Jefferson, Ga. (Jefferson High School), has been superb out of the pen and has been part of Tech’s freshman class that has seen eight guys combine for a 9-4 record and a 4.03 ERA (53 runs in 118 ⅓ innings).
In 12 appearances, Carpenter is pitching to a 3.68 ERA, with six earned runs in 14 ⅔ innings. While his ERA swells to 9.47 in ACC play (6 ER in 5 ⅔ IP), five of those runs came in two appearances (March 13 at Florida State and April 3 against Duke).
Hall has enough confidence in him to call upon Carpenter to build the bridge to Gorst.
The eighth inning has become Carpenter’s domain. In eight appearances in the pentultimate inning he has allowed only two runs and three hits, walking six and striking out six. He has 17 strikeouts vs. eight walks overall.
“I’m just going out there, doing what I can each inning. I’m thankful the coaches gave me the opportunity,” he said. “I think they like me coming in because I work with a pretty quick tempo and I try to come in there and shut it down like they want me to.”
Carpenter’s up-tempo game begins before he takes the field, as even his warmup is built for speed.
“I run in the bullpen,” he said. “Not many people run in the bullpen. I kind of sprint back and forth.”
Once he’s on the mound, he’s all about speed but no longer lives on fastballs alone.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is you can’t blow it by these guys,” he said. “You have to work the ball down and throw strikes. If you don’t throw strikes bad things are going to happen.
His style makes a nice contrast to Gorst.
“Gorst works a little slower than me and he throws a cutter. I’m more of just a fastball guy. Just try to keep you mixed up with the fastball and slider,” he said. “I don’t work more than one inning normally, so if I keep them unbalanced for one or two hitters then I’m good. I like working quick and trying to keep them off-balance.”
Carpenter actually can go multi-innings, having done so on three occasions, not allowing a run in any of them, while giving up only one hit, and striking out 10, including throwing shutout ball in the 12th and 13th innings of the 16-inning marathon win at Georgia Southern.
Being a set-up man may be new but being shutdown guy is not. He was a shutdown corner on Jefferson High’s 2012 state champion football team. Now he’s a shutdown pitcher.
“That was a good time,” he said of his football days. “I don’t know. I just kind of played smart but it was really fun. I had a great time.”
Gorst and Carpenter are having fun pushing each other.
“Definitely, but it’s not just in pitchers. That’s our whole team in general,” Gorst said. “If someone sees Kel [Johnson] hit a home run the next guy up wants to hit a home run, too, to match him. We have a very competitive nature on our team.”
The one area in which there is no competition is the one to give the closing duo a nickname, something seemingly all successful bullpens have. The Gorst-Carpenter tandem not only doesn’t have one but is in no rush to give themselves one.
For now, calling them for the eighth and ninth innings will suffice.
“We didn’t want to [have a nickname],” said Gorst. “We did it last year and it kind of jinxed us a little bit so we’ve stayed away from a name this year.”