- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

ST. LOUIS — Baseball players being the superstitious lot that they are, Dmitri Young has been hesitant to say much about his torrid stretch at the plate.

“I’m seeing the ball well. That’s all I want to say about that,” the Washington Nationals first baseman said.

Young hasn’t just been seeing the ball well; he has been hitting it extremely well. Entering last night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the veteran slugger was hitting .565 (13-for-23) with five extra-base hits and eight RBI in his last eight games.

“He’s locked in,” manager Manny Acta said.

Young’s resurgence has coincided with his return from a sore left Achilles tendon, an injury that clearly seemed to hamper him. When he finally sat down May 8 to rest the heel, his batting average was down to a season-low .227.

But nine days out of the lineup did him good. Since then, he has looked like a whole new hitter, driving the ball to all fields and providing some much-needed punch from the sixth spot in Acta’s lineup.

“A lot of these guys, they’re competitors, and they want to go out there sometimes when they’re not 100 percent,” the manager said. “I think once he let that Achilles heal, he’s come out and swung the bat better for us.”

Because of that, Acta said he may have to keep a closer eye on Young, 33, and give him more regular days off to make sure he remains in top form.

“We’re going to have to monitor that from now on,” Acta said. “You don’t want to take him out, but you have to be conscious about it. Just because a guy’s swinging the bat good, you’re not going to run him into the ground.”

Simontacchi comes back

Jason Simontacchi walked into Busch Stadium yesterday and was greeted by dozens of familiar faces who remembered the right-hander fondly from his days with the Cardinals.

Simontacchi, who pitched for St. Louis from 2002 to 2004, admitted it was weird walking into the visitors’ clubhouse here for the first time. Of course, the home clubhouse would have been strange, too, because he had never played in the new Busch Stadium before, only the previous incarnation that stood across the street until last season.

“To me, it’s really not Busch Stadium,” he said. “But it’s cool. You see faces, people you haven’t seen in a couple years not playing baseball.”

Simontacchi got his first big break with the Cardinals, going 11-5 for the 2002 club that overcame the death of pitcher Darryl Kile to advance to the National League Championship Series. His career spiraled downward from there, and by 2004 he was out of baseball because of a shoulder injury.

But Simontacchi remains close with several St. Louis players. He still makes his home in nearby Fenton, Mo., and was excited to return to town this weekend with the Nationals … until he realized he won’t be pitching in this series. He wishes he were.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I faced them in spring training, but it’s a little bit different when you have 42,000 people screaming.”

Belliard returns, too

Ronnie Belliard’s tenure with the Cardinals wasn’t nearly as long as Simontacchi’s. The veteran infielder spent only three months with St. Louis, but he had a lasting impact, helping lead the organization to its 10th World Series title in October.

The Cardinals will present Belliard with his World Series ring tonight, a momentous occasion for the 32-year-old, who had never played in the postseason before.

“For anybody, that means something,” he said. “I was here last year for the last three months of the season, and when we won the championship, it felt good. Finally I’m here, and I’m going to get my ring. It feels good.”

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