Slugger Cust rewarding Geren's faith

Slugger Cust rewarding Geren's faith

OAKLAND -- Having played under an unspoken produce-or-else edict throughout his first 10 years as a professional, A's outfielder Jack Cust knows all too well what the "or-else" part of that equation means.

"It's always in the back of your mind," Cust said while lounging at his locker Monday afternoon. "Nothing's guaranteed. It hasn't been for me, at least."

Until this year, that is.

Allowed to work through his early April struggles, Cust has been on a tear of late and was named the American League's Player of the Week (April 28-May 4). So hot is the big slugger, he was the only left-handed hitter in Oakland's lineup against Baltimore lefty Garrett Olson on Monday for the opener of a three-game series at McAfee Coliseum

"Everybody has cold spells," said Cust, who batted .188 with one homer in April but posted a .388 on-base percentage. "Fortunately I have a manager who has faith in me."

Cust's discerning eye at the plate is a big part of Oakland skipper Bob Geren's faith in him. Cust frequently strikes out -- 30 in 28 games entering Monday, on top of 164 in 124 games last season -- because he rarely gets cheated on a hack, but he doesn't chase many pitches off the plate, either.

"He's just a good hitter, a productive hitter," Geren said. "Drawing walks is part of being productive."

Through Sunday, Cust led the AL in walks (25) and on-base percentage (.426), and he ranked fourth in most pitches seen per plate appearance (4.3).

"I got off to a really hot start last year, but even when I cooled off, I was still taking walks and getting on base," he said. "Bob actually called me into his office and we talked about that. He said, 'As long as your on-base percentage is up there and you're taking walks, you're still being productive.

"I talk to my dad a lot, too, and when I was struggling earlier this year, he said, 'You're still getting on base a lot. You're still creating runs. Just hang in there until you start feeling better. It'll come.'"

Drafted by the Diamondbacks in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, Cust never quite panned out as a top prospect and was traded to the Rockies in 2002. He batted .169 in 35 games for Colorado that season and was traded to the Orioles the next spring.

Cust batted .260 in 27 games for Baltimore in 2003 and appeared in one game for the O's in 2004 before signing with the A's as a Minor League free agent, but he never made it up to Oakland in 2005, so again he turned to Minor League free agency, signing with the Padres.

San Diego, too, gave him only a cup of coffee in the Majors. More like an espresso shot, really, giving him three at-bats over four games in 2006.

"Obviously, I'm a guy who's been sent out [to the Minors] a lot; never really got a chance," Cust said. "So that's all I knew for 10 years. At some point, you have to produce. I know that. But it's hard to produce when you don't play, too."

Cust finally got his long-awaited opportunity to play on a regular basis at the game's highest level last May, when the A's, desperate for a designated hitter when Mike Piazza suffered a shoulder injury, brought him back and made him a lineup regular.

He justified the team's somewhat forced faith in him by going bonkers upon arrival, hitting eight homers with 20 RBIs in his first 13 games on the way to leading the team with 26 homers and 82 RBIs in 124 games.

The reward? The unspoken cancellation of the produce-or-else edict.

"Nobody really said anything to me when I was struggling this year, but Bob kept throwing me in the lineup, hitting fourth or fifth," Cust said. "So I guess that was his way of telling me they weren't going to give up on me."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.