TUCSON -- Too often, the '08 D-backs had the bats taken out of their hands at the most critical times.

Their 1,287 strikeouts set a club record, and reducing that number is and will continue to be one of Spring Training's main objectives.

So how's it going? Well, the D-backs are looking good -- literally.

In one of their backfield drills, two curveball dispensing pitching machines are set up in a covered cage at the Kino Sports Complex, and the players take turns, but not cuts, reading the pitches.

"Those were the types of pitches that we missed when things were going bad," said Chris Young. "So this definitely helps."

So does not having retained Adam Dunn. The outfielder who has topped 160 strikeouts in six of his eight seasons spent the latter part of 2008 adding to the D-backs' total.

"It's not so much how often you strike out, but when," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said following Saturday's workouts. "As a group, we have to be aware of when it's important to put the ball in play.

"There were times last year when I couldn't send runners [for fear of a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play]. Striking out with a man on third and two outs is not productive. Or not advancing a runner from second with none out. As a group, we're working on our two-strike approach."

Melvin could see a difference in Saturday's situational-hitting games, which are competitive (for the record, Team Sluggers and Team Executioners won and will meet in Sunday's "championship" game) as well as instructional.

"Young was almost flawless," Melvin said of the center fielder's bat work in the drill. "He's very confident now, and he showed his progress. He was also good on the curve machines."

Last season, the D-backs fanned half the time they found themselves in a two-strike count. Of the total, 346 strikeouts came with runners in scoring position, also a league-leading figure, and 536 with men on base.

Most discouragingly, the D-backs weren't quite an all-or-nothing club. Despite all the K's, they were only middle-of-the-pack in homers, ranking seventh in the NL with 159.

"You accept the strikeouts as a tradeoff for the ball leaving the park," said Peter Woodfork, Arizona's assistant general manager. "When you can hit the ball a long way, strikeouts are just a part of it."

The five D-backs who fanned more than 100 times -- including Mark Reynolds, who set a big league record with 204, and Chris Snyder, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton and Young -- accounted for 102 of the home runs.