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09/28/08 4:30 PM ET
Young paces AL on other side of play
Shortstop leads league in double plays, fielding percentage
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Michael Young will close the season leading American League shortstops in both fielding percentage and double plays. That's good enough for Young, and it's good enough for the Rangers. "That's a testament to Michael," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before Sunday's season finale against the Angels. "He makes all the routine plays. If he gets to it and gets his glove on it, it's an out. That's all I want from my infielders, and he does it as well as anybody in the game." Young entered Sunday's game with a .984 fielding percentage. Derek Jeter, Orlando Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta were all tied for second with a .979 percentage. He had committed just 11 errors, his fewest since moving to shortstop in 2004. This will be the first time he's ever led his position in fielding. He was second in '06. "It means a lot to me," Young said. "I've worked hard on my defense, and I feel this year I've played well. I feel I'm getting better, but still think there are ways I can improve. This offseason I want to work on my first step. I feel my hands are better and my arm is strong, but I still feel I can improve." A quicker first step will help with Young's range. That's been the one part of his defense that has come under the most scrutiny, and he is not oblivious to the debate. "I think it's funny because everybody wants Ozzie Smith range," Young said. "I want people to show me a guy that has turbo range like that. I'm happy with that part of my game. I don't have anything to prove to anybody except me and my teammates. I get to balls. I think it's funny people tend to nitpick over small things." Young entered Sunday averaging 4.61 chances per nine innings, the second highest in the league. Part of that, no doubt, is playing behind a pitching staff that has the second-fewest strikeouts in the AL. But if that has to be considered, it must also be pointed out that the infield at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, is possibly the fastest in the game. The grass is kept extremely short, and the heat and wind bake the infield dirt into a rock-hard surface. Ground balls zip through that infield, which doesn't hurt an explosive offense, but doesn't help defensive players. "It's very fast," Washington said. Young also knows there is debate about his future at shortstop. There has been speculation that he may have to switch positions at some point, especially when Double-A Frisco shortstop Elvus Andrus is ready. But Young is quite clear with his feelings about a possible position switch. "Not anytime soon I'm not," Young said, who admits to strong feelings and stubbornness about the subject. "Because I've had to defend my defense so much, I feel I've had to develop a certain amount of stubbornness. But I don't see that change taking place anytime soon." Washington said switching Young to another position has not been discussed. Washington said he sees Andrus at Triple-A Oklahoma next year. General manager Jon Daniels said: "Michael Young is our shortstop. His track record speaks for itself." Washington said Young's range could improve with better positioning. Right now, Young plays what Washington calls a "straight-up shortstop." When he learns to shade hitters in the right situations, Washington said his range will get better. Young also played this year with small fractures in fingers on his left and right hands. The problems kept him from achieving his signature statistics of a .300 batting average and 200 hits. They did not keep him from leading the league in fielding. He suffered a small fracture in the ring finger on his left hand in May, and that hurt him when catching a ball for a couple of weeks. The fracture in the ring finger on his right hand occurred at the end of July, and it has not gone away. "It hurts every time I throw the ball, but it's easy to get by that," Young said. "You know for a split-second there is going to be pain, and then it's going to go away." But, despite the injuries, he was in the lineup for all but nine games. Only Josh Hamilton played in more games for the Rangers. Young played in a total of 155 games this season, which is the fewest he's played in over the past seven years. But only 13 players in the AL have played in more. Since the beginning of the 2002 season, only Ichiro Suzuki has played in more games than Young among Major League players. "That's valuable," Washington said. "He's our leader. He leads by example. He doesn't complain, he just comes in, straps it on and goes out and plays. Believe it, those other guys see that. You can't put a value on that."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.