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Comfortably Young

7/22/2010

A few hours before Justin Morneau suffered a concussion, he raved about the work of Delmon Young. "He's had so many big hits, even hitting from the 7 or 8 hole," Morneau said. "He's made adjustments. His preparation is really good. He has a plan for his at-bats.

"The thing about him is he loves the game. Not many people get to see the person we see -- great guy, funny, a great sense of humor. ... I think when we first got him he was young, and we forgot how young he was."

Yes, we did.

Delmon Young was suspended for flipping a bat at an umpire, he was traded by the Rays, he struggled in his first 1.5 seasons with the Twins, and is now tapping into the natural ability that everyone has always seen in him -- and he is still only 24 years old.

If Young had gone to college, he'd have been out only a year or two by now, and he'd probably be going through the same growing pains that we've seen in two prospects who are close to his age: Justin Smoak and Gordon Beckham.

But Young is in the fourth full season of his major league career, and he has learned lessons -- about preparation, about taking care of his body, about hitting. With Morneau on the disabled list and Joe Mauer struggling through one of the worst seasons of his career, Young has shouldered a greater burden for the Twins. Batting third in the Minnesota lineup, Young drove in three runs Wednesday, pushing his batting average to .314, with a team-high 67 RBIs.

"He has finally has committed himself totally to what he wants to be in this game," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "You have to commit yourself during the offseason and season, and I think he's really turned the corner. He got himself in great physical shape, he really worked hard in spring training on his swing, and he started to trust a few people; he has learned to trust people.

"He has gone from being kind of a guarded young man to someone who is really into it. When he's in the dugout, you'll hear him talk about how he's going to play people defensively, and he never did that before. He's been nothing but a pleasure in everything that he's doing."

Young will pick the brain of teammate Jim Thome constantly, Morneau noticed, asking him about pitchers, about game situations, about hitting. Recently, when Young reached first base against the Yankees, he and New York veteran Mark Teixeira chatted about hitting, about evolving from someone who hits from 5 o'clock to 7 o'clock -- during batting practice -- to someone who hits in games.

"This is my fourth year, and you've seen just about every pitcher in the league now," Young said. "You have a sense of their plan of attack, how they're going to pitch you, their weaknesses. You have a sinkerball pitcher coming in to a double-play type of situation, and he's going to try to get you to beat the ball into the ground."

Young has learned through his experience that he is really trying to beat the advance scouts: If one team's pitchers beat him with a particular approach, then the scouts for other teams will see this, note it, and the league will keep pitching to him in the same way. "That's the fun thing about baseball," Young said. "You get your four at-bats, you get to test yourself in each at-bat, and the pressure is on."

And he's been responding, and thriving, at a time when the Twins are desperate for help.

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Young got it done in the clutch Wednesday, writes Joe Christensen. The Twins have decided to put Brian Duensing into their rotation, and have removed Nick Blackburn.

The evolution of Francisco Liriano continues, writes Patrick Reusse. And fantasy leaguers will be all over this: The sight of Anthony Slama closing games for the Twins could be a regular occurrence, writes Tom Powers.

Around the league

• The Houston Astros have made a major push in recent days to find suitors for Roy Oswalt, and they have had a difficult time generating a market for him, according to sources. The Phillies are engaged heavily in talks for him, as are the St. Louis Cardinals, reportedly. Given the Cardinals' relative proximity to his home in Weir, Miss., Oswalt -- who has a full no-trade clause and can block any proposal -- would embrace the opportunity to pitch for St. Louis.

How close is the Oswalt home to Busch Stadium? Well, when Oswalt eliminated the Cardinals in Game 6 in St. Louis, his father Billy drove from Weir to see the game -- and returned home immediately after the game, in time to be in the woods to resume his work as a logger the next morning.

The overriding question about the negotiations between the Astros and the Cardinals might be this: Would Houston owner Drayton McLane be willing to hand a signature star to a division rival without receiving a huge cache of prospects in return?

The Cardinals' farm system is not considered by other teams to be particularly deep, but maybe right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller would be enough to anchor the deal.

The best option for the Phillies might be Brett Myers, writes Bill Conlin.

If the Astros trade Oswalt, they need to trade all of their marketable players, writes Richard Justice.

• The White Sox would like Prince Fielder; a lot of teams would like Prince Fielder. But the problem for the White Sox is that rival evaluators don't see a lot of depth in the Chicago farm system. So as the White Sox pursue a possible deal for Fielder, the best young pitcher they can offer -- beyond John Danks -- is Dan Hudson, who is not regarded as a can't-miss, front-of-the-rotation type of guy.

What does that mean? That they probably can't structure an acceptable deal for Fielder unless they put Beckham into an offer -- and it makes no sense for them to do that. So they probably will have a very hard time structuring a suitable offer for the slugger.

Separately: A whole lot of teams are expressing interest in Corey Hart.

The White Sox are looking for a bat, writes Mark Gonzales. The White Sox have offered their whole farm system for the Nationals to pick over, without success, writes Joe Cowley.

• The Padres pulled out a great win Wednesday, rallying in the ninth and then winning in extra innings.

• Ryne Sandberg has learned a lot about managing, writes Dave van Dyck. The Cubs have a tough choice to make with Sandberg. Bob Brenly would like to be considered for the Cubs' job, Paul Sullivan writes.

• Nolan Ryan testified that the Rangers are taking a financial beating. The Rangers are shifting their money to help for the playoff run, writes Jeff Wilson.

• The Cardinals are on a serious roll, with eight wins in a row, and Jaime Garcia picked up his ninth win. It has been a great year in the National League for rookies, with the likes of Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg, but as of today, you'd have to think that Garcia is the front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year, by a significant margin.

The current leaders in the big leagues in ERA:

1. Josh Johnson, Marlins: 1.62

2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: 2.02

3. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals: 2.21

4. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies: 2.38

5. Roy Halladay, Phillies: 2.40

How Garcia won, from Michael Trainor of ESPN Stats & Information:

He had a killer instinct -- Garcia got to two-strike counts on 10 Phillies hitters and retired them all (100 percent; MLB average: 72 percent). He dominated with slow stuff. The Phils were 1-10 against non-fastballs, lowering Garcia's opponents' season mark to .188 (35-for-186) against the slower stuff. He found holes in some bats. Of Garcia's 59 strikes, 13 were swings and misses (22 percent; MLB average: 14 percent).

Great news about Bob Uecker.

• Major League Baseball says the umpires erred in their call in the Giants-Dodgers game the other night, Henry Schulman writes. But Tim McClelland stands by the call. Don Mattingly has made minor league errors, writes Bill Plaschke.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Wrote here yesterday about how other teams wondered whether the Jays would actually keep Jose Bautista, who is having a career year, given that he would be in line for a huge arbitration award -- something in the range of $10 million to $12 million, according to officials from two teams. But after that appeared, I heard from multiple executives that they are sure that Bautista's arbitration number would be much less than that. He is making $2.4 million this year, and the other officials say they would be stunned if he made more than $5 million to $6 million next year -- and given that Toronto has Lyle Overbay and other veterans likely coming off its payroll, the Jays could easily wedge Bautista into their budget for 2011, at the lower figure.

2. Joakim Soria's name has appeared in trade speculation, which is understandable, given his incredible track record. But executives with other teams say the contractual options contained within his long-term deal with the Royals make it almost impossible for Kansas City to trade him, because it contains almost no risk for the club. Soria's deal includes options for 2011 at $4 million, for 2012 at $6 million, for 2013 at $8 million and for 2014 at $8.75 million. The team can buy out the options for just $750,000. Soria is one of the best closers in the game, and that in itself would make it difficult for a team to structure a deal for him, but his contract has value, as well, because it is so team-friendly -- much in the same way that Fausto Carmona's contract has value.

3. Boston scout Allard Baird was at the Rockies-Marlins game Wednesday, writes Nick Cafardo, at a time when Boston's season is beginning to hang in the balance.

4. Here's who the Mariners might be trading in the next 10 days, from Geoff Baker.

5. The Padres could be looking at Miguel Tejada, as they consider ways to replace David Eckstein. Another possibility is Jed Lowrie, which makes a lot more sense than Tejada, because Lowrie can play three positions.

6. Other teams are asking the Pirates about one of their relievers.

7. Micah Owings was sent down.

8. The Dodgers called up a pitcher.

9. The Rockies' first-round pick plans to play football.

10. Ken Davidoff thinks the Yankees will get a steady bench guy.

11. Scott Sizemore is back with the Tigers, and he's going to play, writes Tom Gage.

12. The Astros picked up a couple of players.

Dings and dents

1. Aaron Laffey is going to have a shoulder scan.

2. Jim Edmonds is hobbling.

3. Rick Ankiel is on the verge of rejoining the Royals.

4. Brett Anderson could be back in the Oakland rotation Sunday, as mentioned within this Susan Slusser piece.

5. Brandon Webb continues to throw, Steve Gilbert writes.

6. Todd Helton is heading off for a rehab assignment, Troy Renck writes.

7. Troy Tulowitzki began his rehab, Irv Moss writes.

8. Jerry Manuel's job is in jeopardy, writes Kevin Kernan.

9. Nate Robertson was designated for assignment by the Marlins.

10. Despite a contusion, Carl Crawford says he won't wear a cup.

Wednesday's games

1. The Mets are fading in a big way; they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and have lost all but one game coming out of the All-Star break.

2. Stephen Strasburg pitched better than his line indicated, and when he walked off, he had something to say to hecklers.

3. Miguel Tejada and his manager disagreed about a decision he made in the midst of the Baltimore loss to Tampa Bay. Watched a lot of this game, and at the moment the play happened, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said right away that Tejada probably should have thrown to second base to start a would-be double play -- yet, at the same time, it's hard to lay a whole lot of blame on Tejada considering that the pitcher walked in the go-ahead run.

4. Pedro Alvarez is killing the ball -- that's four homers in the past two days, Dejan Kovacevic writes.

5. Jake Westbrook had a bad inning, writes Paul Hoynes.

6. The Red Sox offense is running on fumes already, and now Boston goes into Seattle, writes Michael Silverman. Clay Buchholz's rust showed Wednesday.

7. The Reds feel like they had their chances against Strasburg, writes John Fay.

8. The Jays couldn't slow down Zack Greinke.

9. Yet another Brewers starter got pounded, writes Tom Haudricourt.

10. The Mariners rallied, Geoff Baker writes.

11. The Giants were shut down.

12. Chad Billingsley was The Man for the Dodgers, who got a badly needed victory. How Billingsley won, from Mr. Trainor:

He gave up hardly any hard-hit balls. Of the 31 at-bats against Billingsley, only one was deemed "well-hit" (.032; MLB average: .267). He controlled the heater. Billingsley threw 90 fastballs, and 64 were strikes (71 percent; MLB average: 64 percent).

13. The Angels' relievers got roughed up.

14. The D-backs frolicked.

15. The Rockies had no answers against Ricky Nolasco.

16. Joe Blanton ran out of gas, writes Matt Gelb.

17. A rookie bailed out Javy Vazquez, writes George King.

18. Max Scherzer was outstanding, writes Tom Gage. How Scherzer controlled the Rangers:

He generated weak contact. Inside Edge determined that 3 of 23 (.130) Rangers at-bats ended with a ball "well-hit." The league average is .267. Scherzer has fared well in this category all season long (.176). He had strong starts to innings -- Scherzer retired 6 of 7 (86 percent) hitters leading off an inning. The league average is 68 percent. Scherzer also threw a season-high 123 pitches and equaled his season high with 10 ground ball outs.

19. Gaby Sanchez hit a monstrous homer, in a big spot.

20. The Rays bounced back.

21. The Braves let one get away, writes David O'Brien.

The Patience Index

Other stuff

• Sad news about Ralph Houk, from Dick Goldstein of The New York Times.

• Jerry Remy has worked out a contract extension with NESN.

Carlos Beltran has looked terrible defensively, and Jerry Manuel says Beltran needs to adjust. I think the adjustment needs to be made by Manuel: He should shift Angel Pagan to center field and put Beltran in right.

• The Twins have no plans to alter the dimensions of Target Field, writes Charley Walters.

• There are mixed feelings about A-Rod as he nears 600 homers.

• The wife of a player pleaded guilty in a kidnapping case, Colin Dunlap writes.

• The Giants are thinking about playing their season opener next year in Taiwan, writes Andrew Baggarly.

• It's time for the Phillies to see what Domonic Brown can do, writes Rich Hofmann.

• A bond has formed between Willie Mays and David Wright, writes David Waldstein.

• The Reds can make the playoffs with Joey Votto setting the tone, writes Doug Harris.

• The Angels will be battling heat, humidity and the Rangers this weekend.

Tyler Clippard has found his control.

• A vote for George Steinbrenner for the Hall of Fame would be a vote for Curt Flood, writes Bill Rhoden.

And today will be better than yesterday.