MIAMI — Yes, the Diamondbacks — a team I thought would compete in what I felt was a wide-open National League West — are in last place. And, sure, that bullpen — with a 7.70 ERA that easily ranks last in the Majors going into Friday — has been dreadful.
But there are some positive signs on this team, and two of them come from a couple of the guys fans were most worried about last season: shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Chris Young.
Last year, Drew (pictured left) plummeted after a nice 2008 season by hitting just .261 in 135 games. Young, meanwhile, had never been able to follow up on a promising rookie season in 2007, as he sports a .235 batting average his previous three seasons.
But both have turned it around so far.
Drew hit .365 in Cactus League play this spring and has carried that into the regular season, as he sports a solid .304 batting average with 19 RBIs in his first 39 games. Young tore it up last September — batting .278 with eight homers in his last 28 games of the season — and is hitting .282 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 41 games while playing outstanding defense in the outfield.
I covered the D-backs when they played the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium earlier this week, and I got a chance to ask around about what has led to the early season turnarounds of these two.
In Drew’s case, hitting coach Jack Howell credits a simplified approach.
“Last year, he spent a lot of time kind of going in and out of his swing,” Howell told me. “Because he gets a little lazy and the bat head drops, and he was getting more fly balls then balls that were backspun. So we spent a lot of time working on that, and then I think the thing that really helped him is that he’s getting better pitches to hit, and I think that’s a lot because he simplified his approach. And what I mean by that is we really talk more, but we don’t go into great-detail kind of stuff on how guys are trying to pitch him and go into all the percentages and stuff. He kind of just wants to know more velocity and the pitches the guy has and to think more see it and hit it.”
“We started that in spring, where he’s kind of focused on seeing it and hitting it hard,” Howell added. “And then any time, if the bat gets a little loopy or whatever, then we have a couple of drills that we work on to kind of get it in a better direction, which helps him stay in the zone longer.”
As for Young (pictured right), manager A.J. Hinch credits his balance.
“He’s maintained really good balance at the plate,” Hinch told me. “And balance, you can say it’s physical balance. He’s not skating as much in the batter’s box and not getting out of position very often. But it’s almost a mental balance for him of taking every at-bat as a once-at-bat challenge and not dwelling on the mistakes that he makes or the misses that he has.”
The D-backs (18-24) are six games below .500 and 6 1/2 games back while in the basement of the NL West. But don’t blame the offense. They lead the league in runs and homers, while Drew and Young have been solid, new addition Kelly Johnson has been great, franchise player Justin Upton is starting to hit again, and Mark Reynolds is still doing his thing.
— Alden Gonzalez