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Young finding his batting touch

Young finding his batting touch

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PHOENIX -- Over the past two weeks, Chris Young has found his groove. The Diamondbacks' leadoff hitter has strung together a seven-game hitting streak, with multihit games in his last three games, collecting three hits in each of his last two games and reaching base by hit or walk nine times in nine trips to the plate over the course of two games against the Rockies and Mariners.

"Toward the end of Spring Training, normally you start to feel more comfortable at the plate, you start to see the pitches a little bigger," Young explained after a 3-for-5 day against the Rangers on Thursday, where he knocked a single, a double and a homer. "It's been a process. It started off slow, which is normal for me. I don't really worry about it. You try to get comfortable. I've seen a lot of pitches, and now I'm starting to get a little more offensive out there."

Poised for his second full season as the D-backs' starting center fielder, Young is part of a core of players the club is counting on to elevate their game a notch, giving the team a lift from maturation within, rather than from importing another bat into an already promising lineup.

As recently as a week ago, Young was still waiting to show that maturation on the field, but his batting practices were good indicators of his focus locking in, making solid contact and impressing his manager, Bob Melvin, who often pitches to him before games. After hitting .480 (12-for-25) with two homers and five doubles during his seven-game streak, he's answered any lingering questions in a flurry.

"His at-bats seem to be getting better and better, and hopefully on-time here," Melvin said after watching Young go 3-for-3 with a pair of walks, a double and a homer against Colorado on Saturday. "Whether it's fighting his way through an at-bat and drawing a walk, or hitting a ball the other way, or pulling a breaking ball, his swings, his pitch recognition is a lot better. It's due to some hard work this Spring Training."

With a team-high 32 homers and a second-best 27 steals in his rookie campaign of '07, Young showed the ability to be anything from a leadoff hitter with pop to a cleanup hitter with wheels.

"Coming up, I've hit everywhere," Young said. "As of right now, I'm the leadoff hitter, and that's what I'm focusing on. If I move to the middle of the lineup, I'm still going to keep the same type of approach. I really don't have to adjust my game too much, if I'm moving in the lineup. Either way, it's no problem for me. I enjoy being in the lineup."

Melvin readily admits that Young has yet to show himself as a prototypical leadoff man, partly because of his power threat, but also partly due to his .295 on-base percentage and 141 strikeouts in '07.

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Melvin said he's reminded of Bobby Bonds, quickly calling up the precedent for Young's leadoff style. "He affects the games a little bit differently," Melvin said. "You get the Juan Pierres, who do it with getting on base and taking the pitcher's focus. CY can do that, but you can't just lay one in there for him and say 'I can't walk this guy.' If you do, it can be, 1-0, in a hurry."

Young's spring on-base percentage is .443. He's been working on laying off pitches out of the zone, getting deeper at-bats, and resisting the urge to pull the ball.

"He's doing some things a little bit differently," Melvin said. "He understands where the strike zone starts and ends on the outside a little bit more. He's always been able to pull his hands in on some balls inside. He has the confidence to know he can succeed at the big league level. All these things are playing into it."

What's more, he's made a couple of big plays in the field in his last few games, running balls down and making over the shoulder catches and taking his success the same way that he snares a drive from almost certain extra bases -- in perfect stride. On Saturday afternoon, it was an inning-ending grab in a long eighth inning, effortlessly batting the elements to stifle a Rockies rally.

"Center field here, late in a game, the wind's moving all over the place, to turn his back and still pick it up with where the sun is, and make it rather easily, he's playing with a lot of confidence," said Melvin.

That confidence has Young champing at the bit, with Opening Day a full week away.

"I'm pretty much season-ready," he said. "Spring Training can get a little long some times. It's fun, you take it for what it is, and you just enjoy it, get your work in and get ready for the season. I'm ready to go right now."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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