Young hopes fast finish leads to quick start
D-backs OF works hard all winter to carry momentum into '10
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Normally Chris Young waits a couple of months after the season is over before beginning his offseason hitting program.
This past year, the D-backs outfielder waited barely a month.
Young did not want to take a chance of losing the momentum of a strong September. He had suffered through five brutal months before the late-season surge and he was going to do everything in his power to avoid that in 2010.
"I pretty much wanted to carry over how I finished the season into the offseason and build off that," he said.
As for the rest of the 2009 season, that is something he would rather forget.
"I was extremely frustrated because I was used to playing at a certain level and when I wasn't getting results it was very frustrating," Young said.
The struggles started early for him. He hit .198 in April and May was even worse at .159. While he was slumping his team was falling out of the pennant race and the only big league manager he had played for, Bob Melvin, lost his job.
June brought a brief respite from the struggles. Young started the month off on a roll and by June 18 he had pulled his average up over the .200 for the first time since April. On June 18 at Kansas City he was 4-for-4 and reached base five times before having to leave the game with a groin injury. That kept him on the bench for a week and whatever rhythm he had at the plate was gone.
"It definitely slowed me down," Young said. "But by no means am I saying that I shouldn't have been able to pick it back up and gotten going again."
Yet he couldn't seem to do it, no matter what he tried. And he tried a lot of things.
"He worked hard," fellow outfielder Justin Upton said. "He always wants to do well, it's important to him. There are days when you don't feel great in the big leagues and you may not go to the cage to get that extra work. C.Y. always wants to go."
Perhaps the only thing that bothered Young more than struggling on the field were the whispers that he didn't care, that the five-year, $28 million deal he signed in April of 2008 had gone to his head.
"I know how hard I was working and the adjustments I was trying to make to turn things around," Young said. "My desire and work ethic were not the issues. I love this game, it means so much. I've played it since I was 4 years old. It was my first love. I push myself and expect more out of myself than anyone else ever could."
Finally 10 days into August, with Young's batting average at .194, the team optioned him to Triple-A Reno in hopes that playing under less scrutiny would help getting him going.
"He's a very prideful person," Reno manager and former Major League outfielder Brett Butler said. "He wants to please. He loves people. He's just a tremendous human being, who tries so hard. I told him, 'You're going to be in the lineup every day. All I want you to do is go out and play like you did with your friends when you were little. You just went out and had fun.' "
And that's what Young did as he hit .370 in 13 games. Suddenly the smile that had disappeared during the struggles was back. So was the sleep that eluded him in the months prior when he would stare at the ceiling and wonder why he was struggling.
"To go back there and have some success really helped," Young said. "I didn't have all the other pressure around me. I was able to focus on what I needed to do and not have outside pressure on me. I got comfortable in the box again and I was confident at the plate. I wasn't thinking as much. When you stop thinking is when things turn around for you, because when you're not thinking at the plate you let your natural abilities take over instead of thinking so much about mechanics."
When he was called back up at the end of August, Young was able to transfer that success back to the big leagues, where he hit .278 with eight homers during the season's final month.
This offseason, Young returned to Houston and attacked his workout regimen with full force.
Most days included sessions with a track coach, strength coach and hitting coach. He feels working with the track have made him more explosive and improved his running form, both of which are important because he plans on once again being a basestealing threat. After swiping 27 bags in 2007, he fell off to 14 in 2008 and just 11 last year.
"I'm going to work on it in Spring Training," Young said. "I was a little tentative on the bases last year and the only way to get that out of your system is to practice it in games. I want to work on stealing bases and work on bunting. With my speed I should be able to bunt. Trying to use everything that I have to help the team. Because I think I have had a lot of qualities that could help that I didn't necessarily take advantage of that I should."
D-backs manager A.J. Hinch is encouraged by what he saw when Young reported to camp.
"He looks both mentally strong and physically strong," Hinch said. "Looks like he did a lot of work in the offseason. He's looked good and we need him to look good. He's a big part of our turnaround that we expect."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.