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BRONX, New York – Chris Carter still strikes out often, though not as much as before.
Strikeouts frequently are the trade-off for many sluggers with the rare natural power Carter has. It always has been and always will, perhaps even more so nowadays.
However, the flip side is that when the bat does not miss, that turns into a really loud sound. That’s the kind of night Carter had Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium and it was the strikeouts vs. home runs that was a topic of conversation Wednesday.
“I think it’s definitely a part of who he is,” manager Bo Porter said less than 24 hours after Carter’s mammoth home run. “I think he’s done a better job of cutting down some of those critical strikeouts in critical situations where he could just put the ball in play and get an RBI. You look at his strikeouts as a whole, I think because of the fact that he shortened his swing (the strikeouts are lower) and he understands what the league is trying to do to him.”
Carter’s first four at-bats before that home run were strikeouts. Three of his four at-bats Wednesday in a win that the Astros didn’t need him were strikeouts.
Carter’s strikeout total is 136. That’s significantly down from the 212 Carter had last year and perhaps a product of his evolution as a hitter that has resulted in the designated hitter chasing fewer bad pitches, which helped him get ahead 3-0 Tuesday.
That is why that when Carter had that 3-0 count, manager Bo Porter did not hesitate to give the green light. As soon as that pitch from David Robertson hung right over the middle of the plate, it quickly soared into a fly ball that left little doubt about its destination.
Lately Carter has been hitting many fly balls that have a clear destination well out of reach of outfielders. His home run that may eventually go down to haunt the Yankees’ playoff hopes was his 17th since July 1 but also was his 13th when he was either ahead in the count or even in the count.
Nobody else in baseball has more home runs since that point. It also gave him 42 RBI, a mark that nobody has in the game since July 1.
While the potential was always there, it’s a mark that Porter might not have been sure that Carter could attain earlier this season. Before this stretch Carter had three hits in 38 at-bats over 12 games. It was a skid that dropped Carter’s season totals to .181, with 13 home runs and 30 RBI and 88 strikeouts.
Had that continued, Carter would have been on pace for 25 home runs, 57 RBI and 168 strikeouts. Seven weeks later, Carter is on pace for 39 home runs and 93 RBI.
“Obviously, Chris had his struggles early, and you look at the success which he’s had over the last six or seven weeks, I think that is the player that he has the capability of being,” Porter said after Tuesday’s 7-4 win at Yankee Stadium. “Now I think it’s just a matter of him finishing the season strong and being consistent the way he’s been consistent.”
It’s also a case of perhaps becoming the latest player to become a late bloomer.
Carter has been traded three times going from Chicago to Arizona to Oakland before landing in Houston. Now it seems that he evolving into the major league version of the prospect that slugged 123 home runs from 2007 to 2010 between four minor league levels.
It’s also that looming threat that makes a team 20 games under .500 dangerous. The Astros are 16-24 over their last 50 games since Carter’s surge began but in games that he gets at least one hit, they are 15-14 in the games that have featured a home run, Houston is 5-5.
Those are not quite difference maker numbers but it is small measure of his impact. Since the Astros have 26 games remaining against contending teams Carter’s impact could be more than what it was Tuesday.
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