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Van Burkleo hitting stride with A's

Van Burkleo hitting stride with A's

CHICAGO -- Thanks largely to a slow team-wide start, slugging third baseman Eric Chavez's absence and the continued early struggles of a handful of expected studs, the A's entered the finale of a two-game series against the host White Sox on Tuesday with a team batting average of .243.

That was the second-worst clip in the American League, and given that the A's also finished the 2007 season with the second-lowest such mark in the league (.256), on the surface, it might not look like the work of second-year hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo is paying off.

Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby waved off that notion before taking batting practice Tuesday morning at U.S. Cellular Field, insisting that Van Burkleo is doing just fine.

For one thing, the A's entered Tuesday's game batting .265 and averaging nearly 5.3 runs per game over the first seven games of their eight-game road trip.

Oakland also was batting .294 with runners in scoring position on the year, a marked improvement over the .246 RISP rate -- also second-worst in the AL -- it logged last season.

"He's probably my favorite hitting coach I've ever had," said Crosby, who went 9-for-29 (.310) with a home run and six RBIs in the first seven games of the trip. "He's just got a lot of energy, he's always really positive. ... He's great to work with."

Van Burkleo, who played professionally for 14 years -- including five in Japan, where he was named the league's player of the year in 1988 -- but logged only 38 at-bats in the Majors, joined the A's after serving as the Angels' roving hitting instructor for the previous six years. Before that, he spent four years in the Diamondbacks organization.

"I really like working with this group of guys," Van Burkleo said. "It's a young group for the most part, and they're all real coachable guys, real eager to learn, real excited to be here working every day. That makes it a lot of fun as a coach. And even the veterans, guys like Mike Sweeney, have been really receptive and open.

"I'm having a blast with these guys, and I think we're making some real nice progress. We've got some guys still that we need to get right, but those guys are working hard, too, and eventually we'll get them going."

Crosby likes that Van Burkleo, unlike some hitting coaches who might have a more impressive playing resume, doesn't take a "my way or the highway" approach with his charges.

"He lets you have a lot of input, but he's really honest with you, too," Crosby said. "He doesn't just agree with everything. He listens to what you have to say, tells you what he's thinking, and you kind of go from there. Like this spring, I came in and told him what I'd been working on, and he said, 'OK, let's keep working on that,' and then he added some of his ideas and came up with some drills.

"So we took my ideas, he had his, and we combined them and came up with a plan."

A's manager Bob Geren said coming up with a plan for each of Oakland's hitters is one of Van Burkleo's strengths.

"He's very routine-driven, and he emphasizes to [the hitters] to have their own customized work routine," Geren said.

Van Burkleo, 45, expects Oakland's offense to continue to improve over time.

"There's a lot of talent on this team, and I enjoy helping them come up with a plan that helps them maximize that talent," he said. "We'll get better as the year goes on, and these young guys, with their work ethic, are going to get better year-to-year, too."

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

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