With less than three weeks left in the Class AAA Ottawa Lynx's season, Jack Cust is counting down the days until his two-year stay with the Baltimore Orioles organization ends.
"They have no type of concern for me," said Cust, who will be a free agent after the season. "I'm just playing for next year."
Sitting on a Gatorade cooler outside the visiting clubhouse last Thursday before batting practice at Frontier Field, Cust seemed dismayed as he spoke about his frustration over a lack of playing time with the Lynx and brief opportunities in Baltimore.
"It's been the worst year ever for me," Cust said, staring off into the distance. "It's the first year baseball hasn't been baseball for me. It's just coming to the field and getting a couple at-bats."
Cust started the season in Baltimore and got one at-bat before the Orioles took him off the 40-man roster and designated him for assignment. Since the 25-year-old outfielder cleared waivers and arrived in Ottawa he hasn't been an everyday player for the first time in his eight-year career. When he plays he mainly acts as the designated hitter, something Cust will begrudgingly do if he can't get more fielding opportunities. Either way, Cust said he hasn't adjusted.
"I'm not getting any better," Cust said. "I'm getting worse. The whole rhythm of my game has been taken away just by not being able to do what I like to do. You can't always do what you want to do, but there can be a compromise."
He hasn't helped his cause by having the worst year of his career. The slugger has a long, powerful swing that accounts for his 145 professional home runs and nearly 1,000 strikeouts. Despite that, he still walks a lot for a power hitter and leads the Lynx with 53 this season. He entered the year with a career .297 minor league batting average but has dipped to .242 through 84 games this year after recently enduring an 0-for-26 slump. Entering Tuesday's game, he has a team-high 108 strikeouts and ranks third with 15 home runs.
Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie acknowledged that Cust "needs to play to keep his swing right" but pointed out that Ottawa has five outfielders vying for playing time.
"That's the dilemma," Beattie said.
Beattie visited Ottawa earlier this month, but the two never spoke, further incensing Cust.
"You could at least say, 'Hey, I know you've had a rough year,' " Cust said. "Whatever. Say something. You're there for three days and you can't even show your face. . . . I don't care anymore."
Beattie and Doc Rodgers, Baltimore's director of minor league operations, said they have spoken with Cust or his agent Gregg Clifton this year. Beattie, who said he normally doesn't visit with players on every trip, said Cust faxed him a letter Monday with his concerns.
Beattie said he "wasn't aware things were at that level of concern" when he visited Ottawa.