DENVER -- The Rockies' Eric Young Jr. used his success as a pinch-hitter for training in his current role as a starting outfielder. Young leads the Majors with 13 pinch-hits this season. Now he is starting regularly in the outfield because of Michael Cuddyer's right oblique strain and because Todd Helton's season-ending right hip surgery has forced Tyler Colvin to play regularly at first base. It turns out Young is even more successful as a starter than off the bench. Young's 19 hits from July 31 through Sunday tie him with the Cardinals' Jon Jay for most among National League players, even though Young has started just nine of the 12 games in that span. Young has three hits in four of those recent starts and also knocked an inside-the-park homer against the Dodgers last Wednesday.
Young best fits as a leadoff man. Before his recent success, in a well-meaning effort to work counts and give his teammates a chance to see pitches, Young sometimes let good pitches go for strikes early in the count. Now he is ready to swing earlier in the count. He's also taking a healthier cut. "In Spring Training, I was kind of feeling for the ball, tapping for it," said Young, 27, in his first full Major League season. "But as a pinch-hitter, you've got to be ready to fire that bat, especially facing late-inning guys. Getting into that role allowed me to get a feel for my overall swing. "I'm not necessarily firing at the first pitch, but I'm ready to swing earlier in the count. Once you get known as a person who is going to take a lot of pitches, pitchers will just throw a BP fastball just to get ahead of you. You've got to make them think twice about that first-pitch fastball in the middle. Now they throw off-speed for a ball, then get behind in counts." Young's development is not just on the offensive end. Originally a second baseman who was erratic when first moved to the outfield, Young has improved his routes from all three positions and ability to hit cutoff men to the point that the Rockies look at him as an outfielder, not an infielder doing it in a pinch. "Give credit to the player," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He sees the opportunity. He's gravitated toward it. I've talked an awful lot about the improvement I've seen defensively. "He's having a terrific year. There's no getting around it. He does everything he can to send very strong messages. You can't ignore it." For Young, who still takes grounders at second base, he's not particular where he plays defensively. "I look at myself as a leadoff hitter, no matter where I play," he said. "The field is better than the bench."