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Cards' Carpenter battling more than iffy fastball

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter has flashed a nasty temper in recent starts.

The reigning NL ERA champion got his first loss of the season last week. Right after a verbal clash with the Astros' Carlos Lee, he allowed a three-run home run to Hunter Pence. Carpenter said he hung a cutter.

"Oh no, I was fine," Carpenter said. "It wasn't a big deal. I don't know why it turned into a big deal."

Perhaps it was because on April 21 Carpenter tried to take out Arizona second baseman Kelly Johnson on a double-play ball, two innings after getting hit by a pitch by Edwin Jackson.

Both pitchers had heated words while being restrained after Carpenter was hit on the left wrist and said that the catcher was calling for a pitch high and tight.

Carpenter, who starts Tuesday against the Washington Nationals, said he's just being a competitor.

"One thing to say and that was it," he said after the Houston loss. "I guess it's turned into we're all supposed to be best friends in this game."

The Astros' Lance Berkman believes Carpenter is competing with less and appears to have lost 3 mph to 4 mph on his fastball. Carpenter, who was 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA last year and was the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2005, turned 35 last month.

"Everything works off the fastball with him," Berkman said. "Ordinarily he's 96 (mph) and now he's 92, so it makes a little bit of difference.

"You don't have to be quite as committed, quite as quick."

It's not as if Carpenter is in a major slump, considering he's 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA in eight starts and has 52 strikeouts in 53 innings. Just that things could be going smoother.

Carpenter worked eight innings in his last outing against Houston, allowing all four runs in a single inning.

"It was a gutty game, but that's what I've always come to expect from the guy," Berkman said. "When he's good he's as good if not the best pitcher in the National League."

Rather than Carpenter's temper, manager Tony La Russa blames hitters who complain that they just missed a pitch they should have belted out of the park.

"Routinely now hitters pop up a pitch that they should do something with and they start making noises, and that really is disrespectful to the pitcher," the manager said. "Most of the pitchers just turn around and ignore it. Carp doesn't, and I think Carp's right."

La Russa scoffs at the fastball issue with Carpenter, pointing to the overall picture. The right-hander has a 1.93 ERA at home heading into Tuesday's start.

"In my opinion, I would not exaggerate or emphasize Carp's issues," La Russa said. "He hits 90-something when he wants to and he's out there making pitches, trying to save pitches.

"The more movement you get with a little less speed, the quicker outs you get, the deeper you get into the game."

Except for the cut fastball he hung against Pence, Carpenter said he was happy with his other pitches that start.

"I'll keep working on it and get better. Everything else is good," he said.