Kinsler learns consistency from Young
Texas' All-Star infielders have become steady offensive force
ARLINGTON -- Michael Young and Ian Kinsler won't start the All-Star Game on Tuesday because the fans wanted Derek Jeter at shortstop and Dustin Pedroia at second base. The fans always want Jeter, and Young has learned to live with that.
The players preferred Young and Kinsler, however, so the Rangers' double-play partners will at least be on the bench for the American League at the 79th All-Star Game -- sitting side-by-side no doubt as they always do -- but they could be out there together at the end. Since they already lead the AL in double plays, it's not a stretch to imagine them bringing the game to an end by turning two."That would be great," Young said with a big smile. "The way the lineup works, Kins and I should be out on the field at the same time. That's why I'm looking forward to this game more than any others, even the first one." Young and Kinsler will be joined by Rangers outfielders Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, and having four players from the same team makes it a special trip. But there's also no doubt that having Young and Kinsler there together is extra special because they have grown to be inseparable, the mentor and the protégé growing together into one combined force at the top of the Rangers' lineup and in the middle of the field. "I'm proud of all these guys for different reasons," Young said. "But Kins is special -- seeing him for the first time break into the big leagues, see him struggle and see him get hot and become a great player. He works hard and wants to be a good teammate. This is the first of many All-Star Games for him." When Young arrived in the big leagues, he learned from Alex Rodriguez. Young took on the mentor role when Kinsler became the Rangers' starting second baseman in the spring of 2006. "I don't know if he's helped me on the field as much as he has off the field," Kinsler said. "Like this year with my contract situation, even the year before we were discussing it and he was helping me out. He's helped me in so many ways off the field -- we lived right down the street from each other. On the field, he's not going to tell you how to do things. "I just watch him on the field and just seeing how he goes about things has been a big help. You can pick up a lot of things but mainly just his consistency. Honestly, you can't tell if Michael Young went 5-for-5 or 0-for-5 that day. You can't tell if he made three errors or two 'Web Gems.' I like to believe I had that trait coming in, but he has helped me even more." There may not be a better player to watch, considering the respect Young carries around the league. The players have voted the Texas shortstop on to the All-Star team in four of the past five years. Young has played in more regular-season games since the start of the 2002 season than any Major League player other than Ichiro Suzuki, and has a streak going of five straight seasons with at least 200 hits and a .300 batting average. Considering the breakthrough season that Kinsler is enjoying, something must be rubbing off from Young. "I think it's helped him a lot," manager Ron Washington said. "Michael is about as professional of a baseball player you can find. Kins already had the mentality of a grinder, but Michael has helped him even more. You're talking about the ultimate grinder in Michael." The Rangers are seeing that this season, going back to the opening week in Seattle when Young was hit by a bad case of the flu. Since then, he has been dealing with a sore calf, a sore groin and a hairline fracture on the tip of his left ring finger. "People don't realize what he's gone through this year," Kinsler said. "He's had some bangs this year, but he still goes out and performs." Young has still played in 88 of the Rangers' first 93 games and, with the help of a 12-game hitting streak, went into Friday's game hitting .302 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs. He was also second in the American League in fielding percentage and range factor among shortstops. "He's probably at about 85 percent right now," Washington said. "Go back a couple of weeks ago and he was at 65 percent. But you never heard about it from him. But 65 percent of Michael Young is better than a lot of Major League players at 100 percent because that 65 percent is a lot of knowledge and know-how. When you're not 90 or 100 percent, you know how to get it done." Kinsler has soaked that up, and it has helped him put together an outstanding first half. Going into Friday's game, he was leading the American League in batting average, runs scored, hits, extra-base hits and total bases. He was also riding a 22-game hitting streak and already had a 19-game hitting streak earlier this season. Young has taught himself to maintain the same approach and intensity with every at-bat, even if things are going badly for him. That philosophy allowed Young to overcome a terrible start in 2007 and still finish with his customary .300 average and 200 hits.
Adopting Young's consistent approach has helped Kinsler avoid the pitfalls that he fell into during his first two seasons in the Major Leagues."I got that from him," Kinsler said. "The last two seasons when I struggled at times, I'd try to tinker with my swing, tinker with my hands or my lower body. This year, I've made it a point to stick with what I do best and ride it out. Basically, leave the results at the door and trust myself. That's really helped." The ultimate result for the mentor and the protégé has been to give the Rangers a dynamic offensive combination in the middle of the lineup. "Michael Young is my favorite player in the American League," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He plays the game the way it should be played. If Kinsler can become a player like Michael Young, then he's doing pretty good."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.