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Cannon in the outfield

The Rays' Delmon Young has displayed a strong and accurate arm that is quickly causing AL runners to slam on the brakes.

By JOANNE KORTH
Published May 9, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Delmon Young's right arm is changing the way American League baserunners think. Now, they think twice. Less than a year after his major-league debut, the Rays' rightfielder has thrown out eight runners, including four this season. If those numbers hold steady for a while, it's because opposing base coaches and runners are getting wise. "I just throw the ball, " Young said. "It's just throwing." Well, not quite.

According to Rays manager Joe Maddon, throwing from the outfield is every bit as skillful as hitting a slider, pitching a curve or fielding a ground ball.

It's just harder to see.

"Everybody looks at the end result, which is where the ball is released, but so many things occur prior to that that make it possible to throw it straight and accurately, " Maddon said. "When an outfielder makes it look easy, he does so many minute things well that if you broke it down you'd be staggered by all the little things. We're trying to get our guys to that level."

So far, so good.

The Rays' 11 outfield assists are second in the AL to the Twins' 12. The Phillies lead the majors with 15, including three players with four each.

Young has four outfield assists, Elijah Dukes and Rocco Baldelli three each and Carl Crawford one.

During a recent series in Oakland, A's third-base coach Rene Lachemann held a runner at third with two outs in the fifth rather than challenge Young's arm. The next batter popped up with the bases loaded. The Rays won 5-3.

"They might have the best throwing outfield arms in the American League right now, " Lachemann said of the Rays' quartet. "It's a third-base coach's nightmare against these guys."

During a recent game against the Twins, Young nailed two runners. He doubled one off first on a fly ball and robbed another of what seemed a sure double into the corner by playing the ball off the wall and firing to second base.

"Delmon Young was born with a cannon, " said Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, known for his strong arm. "It's a God-given ability. It's something special."

Big arms can be trouble, too. There's nothing worse than a rifle-armed outfielder who can't hit the cutoff man. Missing a cutoff can easily turn a one-run inning into a five-run debacle.

"Guys come up and they're winging it all over the place, and that does you no good, " Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "To be able to harness it and work on the fundamentals and control it, that's pretty special."

Nah, it's just throwing.