05/25/2002 01:15 am ET
Biggio feeling younger every day
Seven-time All-Star getting in the swing of things
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio has been under the public microscope this year, as everything from his age to his batting average to his range in the field has fueled debates as to whether Houston's franchise player may be nearing the end of the road.
But recently, the seven-time All-Star has had a very Biggio-esque surge at the plate, hinting that perhaps the struggles he has endured in the first seven weeks of the season could make way for better times to come.
Since going 0-for-5 on May 13 at home against the Phillies, which lowered his batting average to .214, Biggio has batted .364 (12-for-33) in his last nine games. During that stretch, he has recorded three-hit games three times, knocked six doubles, one homer and five RBIs.
Most recently, Biggio was 3-for-5 with a solo homer against the Cubs in an 11-inning, 5-4 loss on Friday at Astros Field. He improved his overall average to .244 -- nearly 50 points below his career average, but still encouraging, considering how the early stages of the season have gone for him.
Additionally, Biggio's hits on Friday came at pivotal moments of the game. In addition to his first-inning homer, he knocked a dramatic, game-tying base hit in the ninth that scored Geoff Blum from second and sent the game into extra innings.
"He faced some tough pitching tonight, and he got some big hits," manager Jimy Williams said. "They were throwing hard out there and changing speeds, and he hit some tough pitches in that ninth inning to tie that game."
While it's too early to tell how Biggio's numbers will stack up at the end of the year, he has been working tirelessly in the batting cages with hitting coach Harry Spilman, as the duo tries to pinpoint some of the bad habits that have contributed to Biggio's early-season downslide.
"The frustrating thing was, everything we did in the cage stayed in the cage and never came back out on the field," Biggio said.
But that has changed in recent weeks. Biggio and Spilman came to the conclusion that what began as minor adjustments to Biggio's stance were swaying him too far away from what had made him so successful in the past. It started with his signature leg kick: At first they tried to modify it, then they tried to do away with it, then they tried to lower the height of it. Nothing worked.
"I was still getting out in front of pitches," Biggio said. "So we brought [the stance] back and started making my hands go back, and that's been helping. That was the thing -- I was never taking my hands back, and now I'm starting to do that and starting to feel better."
A slump by a marginal player in the season's early stages might not grab headlines, but when someone like Biggio, with his career .291 average and 2,189 hits, has a few too many 0-fer nights at the plate, everything is magnified. And at 36 years old, Biggio's age will always come in question when he has a few bad games.
Said long-time teammate Billy Wagner, "People expect this age thing to go away, but he's not going to get younger. He's a great ballplayer. Great ballplayers can play. The only time age becomes a factor is when he struggles.
"This guy is a gamer; he's going to continue to go out there and play hard. That's what he does. This clubhouse doesn't expect Biggio to hit .230. They expect him to hit .280 [or] .290 and drive in 80 runs and hit 20 homers. At the end of the year, when it's all said and done, that's what will happen."
Consider, for example, the 2001 season. Many naysayers questioned whether Biggio, coming off of major knee surgery, would ever get back to his old form. He answered that skepticism by stringing together one of his better years -- he played in all but seven games, batted .292, knocked 35 doubles, 20 homers, and drove in 70 runs. Biggio also became the first player in franchise history to log 2,000 career hits.
"You can't get over 2,000 hits unless you're a very, very, very good player, a tough player," Williams said. "He's been through periods before where maybe things haven't gone so good. He fought back from that and ended up having a great year in the past. He's a fighter."
And Biggio seems to be following the same path now.
"It's getting there," he said. "I'm not going to jump up and down and do handstands, but it's a step in the right direction."
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.