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Young out to get even better

Young out to get even better

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A study inside his 2006 numbers reveals that San Diego Padres right-hander Chris Young put together a debut season in the National League worthy of another Young -- Cy.

Consider: Among all pitchers in the Major Leagues, Young was the hardest to hit. His .206 batting average by opponents was the lowest in the game among pitchers delivering at least 162 innings. American League leader and Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana held hitters to a .216 average. NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb was hit for a .246 average.

Consider: Young was third in the league, behind Chris Carpenter and Webb, and sixth in baseball in baserunners allowed per nine innings at 10.49.

Consider: Against left-handed batters, a minimum 125 faced, Young was second in the Major Leagues in average allowed at .175. Florida's Joe Borowski, who threw 109 2/3 fewer innings than Young's 179 1/3, was the leader at .167.

Consider: With runners in scoring position, only the great Santana, by a razor-thin margin, was tougher than Young, the 6-foot-10 former NBA prospect from Princeton. Young held hitters to a .176 average with men on second and/or third, while Santana cut them down at a .174 clip. Jake Peavy, Young's moundmate, was ninth in the NL in this category at .228, better than Webb.

"It's the same thing I feel about a guy who hits well with runners in scoring position," Padres manager Bud Black said of this final stat. "They have that ability, that game awareness, to realize, 'Hey, I've got to notch it up a little bit to score that run or get that out.'

"I hope that continues with Chris. It was a great start. But that doesn't surprise me from watching him as a Texas Ranger [in 2005], studying him and talking to him.

"His ability to bring his mind and aptitude out to the field and execute pitches is something that's a big advantage for him. He has a good feel for pitching."

A voracious reader with wide-ranging tastes, Young doesn't explore statistics in any great depth and wasn't aware of all these numbers.

"When I have runners in scoring position," he said, "I try first to go for the strikeout, and next I try to get guys to hit popups. I've been able to do that, and I think that's why I've had some success in those situations."

This points clearly to his ability to focus in crisis and make the best of bad situations, a skill critical in the success of any athlete.

As intensely competitive as anyone in a uniform, Young recalls a challenge in his college basketball career that he carries with him now, drawing on it in the heat of the moment.

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"Freshman year at Princeton, we were tied in the Hawaii tournament with UNC-Charlotte with 10 seconds left," Young said. "I went to the free-throw line and knocked down two, and we won.

"Having been in that situation, having gone through that, gives you confidence to do it again. It teaches you how to have the right mind-set and execute what you need to do under pressure."

And it applies to facing Albert Pujols with a game on the line, just as it did to staring down a hoop 15 feet away with every eye in the arena on you.

Young's keen awareness is helpful in accepting another MLB-high stat from 2006 that would have most pitchers grousing: 15 no-decisions.

"My job is to execute quality pitches and keep us in games," he said. "If I do that, I'm content."

Finishing 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA, sixth in the league, he easily could have challenged for the league lead in wins -- shared at 16 by six men -- with better run support. The same holds for Peavy, who was 11-14 but left 11 games without a single run on the board by his team.

Young raves about the collective IQ of the pitching staff and the club's intelligence as a whole, from Black, pitching coach Darren Balsley, bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds and veteran artists Trevor Hoffman, Greg Maddux and David Wells down through the ranks.

"That's why it's so exciting," said Young, who turns 28 on May 25. "We've got six or seven pitching coaches, even Jake, because of his knowledge and experience. And Broke [Doug Brocail] is very smart.

"There are so many people here for me to talk to and learn from. I didn't even get to learn all I wanted from Trevor last year. He was helpful when I was struggling with my command. I look forward to sharing experiences with Boomer [Wells] and Greg.

"In Texas, we had Kenny Rogers and Orel Hershiser. Here, we [also] have a team full of intelligent people who know the game."

Like most of the younger Padres pitchers, Young is fascinated with Maddux and every subtle move he makes on and off the field.

"He's very quirky," Young said, grinning. "We'll talk, a little at a time. I'm looking forward to sitting there and hearing what he has to say. As a player, he's not going to force it -- and I don't want to wear him out. Even though I will."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }