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Houston's Carter focused on improving, limiting strikeouts in second full major league season

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Chris Carter's first full season in the majors was filled with ups and downs — and a few fireworks.

He led the Astros with 29 home runs, but his 212 strikeouts were the most in the majors. And while he knows he should limit his strikeouts, he hates it when people paint him as an all-or-nothing player.

"I don't want to be that guy that always strikes out," he said. "I want to be an all-around hitter and hit for average and power."

Carter's 82 RBIs were the most on the team, his 64 runs scored were tied for tops and he was fourth with 113 hits. He had the most home runs since Lance Berkman also had 29 in 2008, but his average was just .223.

The Astros kept him in the lineup every day because of his ability to change games with just one swing of his big bat. He uses one that's 34 ounces, which is two ounces heavier than the standard major league bat, and it's also about an inch longer than most.

He had a number of homers last season that could lead a highlight reel. One came off Chris Sale of the White Sox when Carter lost his grip and basically launched it one-handed about 20 rows into the left-centre field stands. Another towering shot came in July against Tampa Bay and led Rays manager Joe Maddon to tweet: "Chris Carter is an impressively strong man." It crashed onto the train tracks atop the wall in left field, causing some fireworks set up for a postgame display to go off prematurely.

"Chris Carter is very valuable to our team," manager Bo Porter said. "He led our team in home runs and RBIs. That tells you the value which he can bring to our ball club. There are things in which I'm pretty sure Chris would tell you himself he's working on to make himself a more complete player and a better all-around player."

Last season was Carter's first with the Astros after an off-season trade from Oakland where he'd been among the A's top prospects.

He split his time almost equally between left field, first base and designated hitter in 2013, but will likely be penciled in more at DH this season.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Carter was a perennial All-Star in the minors, where he piled up 182 home runs. Carter made his major league debut late in the 2010 season, and played 15 games for Oakland in 2011. He finally got some extended time in the majors in 2012 when he appeared in 67 games and finished with 16 homers and 39 RBIs.

Despite that experience, adjusting to playing in the majors every day was difficult.

"That's probably the first time I really struggled for a long period of time," he said. "Because in the minors I never really struggled like that and even when I was at Oakland if I struggled for a little bit, I was sent back down and then I'd go to Triple-A and have success and get sent back up. So it was just a different experience."

As Carter's strikeouts began to mount late last year it was all anyone wanted to talk about with him. When it looked like he could break the major league record for most whiffs in a season, the chatter about it reached another level. He ended up third on the all-time list, 11 strikeouts shy of the record Mark Reynolds set in 2009.

"I kept hearing it from everybody and I started not staying the same," he said. "I was just getting grilled about it from everybody, every angle all the time and I kind of let it get in my head and that's something I shouldn't do."

The Astros understand that there will probably always be a fair amount of Ks for a slugger like Carter. A number of other power hitters also strike out a ton. Baltimore's Chris Davis led the American League in 2013 with 53 homers and 138 RBIs, but wound up tied for seventh on the all-time list after striking out 199 times. Adam Dunn, whose 222 Ks in 2012 are the second-most ever, hit 41 home runs that season.

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