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Altuve's addition provides much-needed balance
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Last year's American League batting champion has a secret weapon entering the 2017 season.
Melanie is tiny, adorable and smiles every time her father, Jose Altuve, enters the room.
"I think she's going to help me to become a better player," Houston's star second baseman said. "Because you need some time off from baseball. Like when you have a bad game or you end up playing really good, you go home and you need to chill out. Like: `OK I don't want to know anything about baseball until the next day.'"
Altuve is notorious for having been a bit obsessive about baseball. His coaches and teammates have often said that when he wasn't playing or preparing to play baseball, he's thinking about baseball. And when he's wasn't doing those things, he was probably dreaming about the sport he worked so hard to break into.
That changed in November when Altuve and his wife, Giannina, welcomed their first child into the world. Little Melanie's arrival added some much-needed balance to Altuve's life.
"Now when I'm on the field I just think about playing baseball, but then when I go home I just think about her and talking to her and what can I do to help her - just everything about her," Altuve said. "Baseball is the thing I do, and she's what I'm doing after that. So she fits perfectly into my life."
Still an infant, Melanie can't do much, but Altuve loves her smile, and is thankful that his daughter favors her mother instead of him.
"She smiles a lot," Altuve said. "I know she doesn't understand what I say, but I talk to her a lot and she smiles and that's the best thing that can happen and I love doing that."
It's hard to imagine that Altuve could get much better after hitting .338 last season to win his second batting title in three seasons. However, he insists that he can do much more.
The four-time All-Star and three-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award still carries a huge chip on his 5-foot-6 shoulders from the scores of rejections he endured before finally getting his shot.
"I don't know if they think I can play now," he said. "The way I feel is I have to keep going out there and proving people. I don't want to be just a guy who has a couple of good years and then that's it. I want to keep getting better and it's always my thinking: I think this team deserves for you to get better and work hard to help them win."
When told of his comments, Houston manager A.J. Hinch immediately started smiling and nodding. Entering his third season as Altuve's manager, he certainly isn't surprised to hear such sentiments.
"His makeup is off the charts, whatever grading scale you have, whatever the top number is is what you'd put on it," Hinch said. "He's prepared and he really cares about every area of his game. Even when he has a bad day he takes it out on himself first. He doesn't blame others, he's very accountable and he expects a lot out of himself."
Altuve finished third in MVP voting in a season when he led the AL for the third straight season by piling up 216 hits. His 42 doubles ranked third in the AL and his 30 stolen bases were second.
The 26-year-old added a new wrinkle to his game last season when he started hitting with far more power. Altuve finished with a career-high 24 homers and 96 RBIs, which were also the most of his career. Before last season he'd never hit more than 15 homers in a season and his previous most RBIs were 66.
Put all those numbers together and Hinch believes it paints a clear picture of Altuve.
"When you think of Altuve, everybody will talk about 200 hits, everybody will talk about batting titles, everybody will talk about his story and how rare it is to be his size and be as good as he is," Hinch said. "The reality is that he's a complete player. We need to start talking about Altuve as one of the best complete players in the game - not just a good hitter."
Having said that, Hinch still believes there are ways Altuve can improve. The manager said he'd like to see him hit better with two strikes, handle breaking balls more skillfully and improve from a good to a great baserunner. While Altuve led the AL in stolen bases, he also led the league in times was caught stealing for the third straight season.
"It's all small margin - stuff that people will not even really see, but that will position him better to be even more consistent than he is," Hinch said. "And when we're talking about the subtleties of the game we have a pretty good player on our hands."
Updated February 25, 2017