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Huff caps season with Silver Slugger

Huff caps season with Silver Slugger

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BALTIMORE -- Aubrey Huff capped a standout season Thursday by winning a major piece of hardware. Baltimore's designated hitter was named the American League's Silver Slugger for his position, recognizing a season in which he finished among the league's top 10 in hits, home runs, RBIs, doubles and extra-base hits.

Huff, who also led the Orioles in homers (32), RBIs (108) and extra-base hits (72), was nominated for the Hank Aaron Award and Comeback Player of the Year Award. The left-handed hitter was also named to the year-end American League All-Star Team by The Sporting News, cementing a massive resurgence.

Joining Huff with on the AL squad were catcher Joe Mauer (Twins), first baseman Justin Morneau (Twins), second baseman Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), shortstop Derek Jeter (Yankees), third baseman Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) and outfielder Josh Hamilton (Rangers), Carlos Quentin (White Sox) and Grady Sizemore (Indians).

Huff notched his highest on-base percentage since 2004 and his highest slugging mark (.552) and batting average (.304) since 2003, reverting to the slugging form of his early career. The former fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays also had the most hits (182) he's had since 2003, a highly similar offensive season.

And all of that happened against a highly unlikely backdrop. Huff struggled in his first season as an Oriole, hitting just 15 home runs in 2007 and snapping a five-year streak with at least 20 round-trippers. The veteran said that he had lost confidence in himself and was unsure whether he'd be able to return to his previous level.

"I wasn't sure anymore," he said in July. "My numbers had gone down for two seasons before last season, and then I had that year; it was pretty much the lowest season I've ever had. My swing hadn't felt the same for three years. I'm starting to think, 'What happened? I'm 30. It's not like I'm 40.' I think, more than anything, it was a confidence thing. 'What's going on, and why is this happening?' Before you know it, your mind gets in the way.

2008 Silver Sluggers
AMERICAN LEAGUE AL
 C Joe Mauer, MIN
1B Justin Morneau, MIN
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B Alex Rodriguez, NYY
SS Derek Jeter, NYY
OF Josh Hamilton, TEX
OF Carlos Quentin, CWS
OF Grady Sizemore, CLE
DH Aubrey Huff, BAL
NATIONAL LEAGUE NL
C Brian McCann, ATL
1B Albert Pujols, STL
2B Chase Utley, PHI
3B David Wright, NYM
SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
OF Ryan Braun, MIL
OF Matt Holliday, COL
OF Ryan Ludwick, STL
P Carlos Zambrano, CHC

"It got tough to even think about the game. It was just so frustrating that I couldn't get anything going. But this year, I just came in and said, 'I'd better have a good year or I won't have much more of a chance to do it again.'

And his mind wasn't the only hazard. Huff suffered a sports hernia that robbed him of valuable training time during the offseason and he spent another six weeks rehabbing after surgery. Huff came into Spring Training without having swung a bat during the winter, but he quickly found that he hadn't lost the feel for it.

Both Huff and hitting coach Terry Crowley credit his comeback to a mechanical adjustment they made at the end of the 2007 season. During a fateful batting practice session, Crowley convinced Huff to stand more upright and to hold his hands higher, a tactical decision that has allowed him to drive balls better to all fields.

"I think it was physical, and then when he got the feel -- 'I can see the ball better from this position, and when I get my pitch, it's easier for me to drive it' -- it allowed everything to fall into place," Crowley said during the season. "Consequently, this year, he's been a much better offspeed hitter without sacrificing anything at all on the fastball. Some guys, when they become a little better offspeed hitters, all of a sudden they're late on the heater.

"That's not the case with Aubrey. He's right on every fastball."

Now, he's right on the minds of his peers. The Silver Slugger Award winners were chosen by managers and coaches from around the league, and the vote mandated a nod to the best offensive producers at each position. Huff may not play the field that often, but he's demonstrated that he might be the league's most dangerous DH.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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