Carter working to be more selective at the dish
Slugger wants to cut down on his Major League-leading 212 K's from 2013
VIERA, Fla. -- The Astros' Chris Carter is listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, and manager Bo Porter wants to make sure he doesn't forget that.
"Look in the mirror," Porter said he has told Carter. "You are a big, imposing man. Pitchers are not just gonna say, 'You know what, let me lay this in here because this guy can't hurt me.' The reason they're gonna pitch you carefully is because you can hurt them."
Carter went through his first full Major League season in 2013, and just as he had throughout his professional career, he put a hurting on plenty of pitchers. He smacked 29 home runs and slugged .451.
Yet his batting average (.223) and on-base percentage (.320) lagged behind, thanks in large part to all of the swings and misses. Carter led the Majors with 212 strikeouts, the third-highest total of all time.
That's where Porter's advice comes into play. If pitchers are afraid of drawing contact, the batter can be more selective and shrink his "mental strike zone," the area in which he's looking to swing on a particular pitch. While pitchers might be willing to challenge a singles hitter, Porter believes they will think twice against someone possessing Carter's power.
"You fall behind a guy that can hurt you, you say to yourself, 'I better make sure I get it to the outer third [of the plate],'" Porter said.
Carter has taken in the lessons, accepted them and tried to apply them. He knew he had to, after a season filled with frustration.
"There were so many at-bats where I would get first-pitch fastball away, I'd take it [for a strike], then I'd swing at a slider in the dirt, and then I'd get three more and eventually swing at one," Carter said, describing a typical strikeout.
This spring, he is implementing a plan that sounds simple but can be difficult to execute: Swing at more pitches he can hit, and swing at fewer he can't.
It's both a mental and physical task. Carter wants to come into the at-bat with a better plan, then stick to it by reading the pitch in enough time to react appropriately.
"You've got to recognize the pitch and you've got to be resolved with what you're trying to do and not deviate from that," he said.
The results were mixed in Monday night's game against the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. Carter chased a low breaking ball and struck out in his first at-bat and got jammed in his second, hitting weakly into a double play. But he rebounded his third and final time up, ripping a single through the left side.
The 27-year-old is now 8-for-26 (.308) in Grapefruit League play, with three doubles, a home run and four RBIs. Although he has yet to draw a walk, he also has struck out only four times. Last spring, he racked up 21 K's in 66 at-bats, then went on to lead all qualified players during the regular season with a 36.2 percent strikeout rate.
"We've definitely seen some adjustments," Porter said. "You look at his at-bats, and some of the pitches he's laid off this year he actually was swinging at last year."
Porter has seen Carter go through a maturation process common to players in their first full big league season. He believes Carter has gained a better understanding of how pitchers are attacking him, through experience, intelligence and his work in the video room with hitting coach John Mallee.
This spring, Carter is picking up the ball better out of the pitcher's hand, Porter said, not necessarily at the time of release, but even the first time the pitcher shows the ball during his delivery.
Carter likely always will pile up the walks and strikeouts along with the homers, after a season in which he had the Majors' lowest rate of balls put into play (46 percent). But if some of his progress can carry past Opening Day, he might be able to bring his strikeout rate back toward the 24.4 percent mark he produced in nearly 300 Triple-A games.
Porter believes Carter will make more contact this season. But can he do so without sacrificing any of his trademark power?
"Have you seen Chris Carter?" Porter asked. "I don't think there's anything he can sacrifice. He's a big man. He can't swing the bat softly."
He just has to remember to look in the mirror from time to time.