OAKLAND Chris Carter is big and strong, and smart and talented, and much to the frustration of his A's bosses, extremely adept at playing the waiting game.
He whiffs. They wait.
He whiffs again. They wait.
"The ability is there," A's manager Bob Melvin said after his club outslugged yes, outslugged the visiting Los Angeles Angels 9-8 Wednesday. "At some point in time, you have to accept in your career, 'I'm a big leaguer,' and I think he's finally doing that."
The A's aren't ready to designate Carter as their everyday first baseman, but that's the plan. Of course, that's been the plan for a while. Carter just hasn't cooperated. He has spent large chunks of the past four seasons anchoring first base for the River Cats and becoming known for three things: his prodigious home runs, his enormous smile and his maddening inconsistency.
Instead of establishing himself as the organization's first power-hitting first baseman since Jason Giambi, his erratic production has forced the A's to audition a steady stream of possible successors. The tryouts this year alone have included Brandon Allen, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Hicks, Brandon Moss, Kila Ka'aihue, Adam Rosales and Daric Barton, who hit a respectable .273 with 10 home runs in 159 games in Oakland in 2010.
But Carter, 25, is finally starting to make some noise. Since being recalled from the River Cats on June 29, he has struck for 10 home runs, including a two-run blast Wednesday that provided the A's with a much-needed cushion.
These were the A's, but they weren't the typical great pitching/poor hitting A's who somehow have made the wild-card race interesting. Rookie pitcher Dan Straily, who was so impressive Friday in his major league debut, struck out the side in the first inning, but he was tagged for five runs (and four home runs), and departed in the fifth.
Not that it mattered. Not even struggling closer Ryan Cook could blow the game or the series, if only because his teammates struck for 10 hits, among them a home run by catcher George Kottaras and a two-run single by Yoenis Cespedes during a five-run, sixth-inning eruption.
"When the game's tied or we're late in the game, I feel we're going to win and someone's going to come through," Carter said. "Everyone's confident enough to do it, and everyone wants to be in that position."
And Carter? Why the sudden pop? He's tired of shuttling between cities. There is that. He also is tired of hearing about his considerable talents and realizing that he isn't fulfilling his potential. There is especially that.
Acquired in the 2007 swap that sent Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez, Carter's recent claim to A's fame includes a .136 average and 20 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances in two call-ups a year ago.
Yet, since returning to Oakland six weeks ago and joining a lineup that features the dangerous Cespedes, he has displayed more plate discipline than at any time in his career. Carter is hitting for power and showing a knack for timely hits, and admittedly he says, starting to hear what Melvin preached during his previous visit and the visits before that.
" 'The next time you come here,' " Melvin related after Wednesday's victory, "don't let us send you down.' We've had that conversation a couple of times. He's a talented guy."
At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, Carter could be mistaken for one of the tight ends who work in the stadium next door. He towers over most of his teammates, which lends a powerful, dramatic flair to both his home runs and frequent strikeouts. During a too-familiar strikeout binge earlier this season with the River Cats, Carter said manager Darren Bush urged him to become more patient and move closer to the plate.
"He told me to wait for the pitch I want instead of chasing pitches out of the zone," Carter said.
Asked about ending the A's ongoing experiment at first base and consistently adding clout to an offense that still ranks last in the majors, he smiled. He nodded. He hopes.
So do the A's.