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Prado can't explain his turnaround at the plate

After struggling early in the year, veteran now among game's hottest hitters

PHOENIX -- Martin Prado thinks for a while after the question is posed to him, then he starts to answer and pauses again.

"I don't even know," he says, finally.

Does it even matter at this point how the D-backs' third baseman found his stroke at the plate after a slow first few months of the season?

"I'm just being the same guy, having fun," Prado said. "I guess I've got a little more confidence at home plate."

It's hard not to be confident at the plate when you go on a tear like Prado did in August, when he was named National League Player of the Month. Prado hit .374 with four homers and 30 RBIs in August, and July was a pretty good month for him as well, with an OPS of .877.

Before that, it was a tougher go for Prado. Why that was the case, and what turned things around for him, is something he has been asked a lot. A sufficient answer is hard to find.

Prado was acquired by Arizona in late January from Atlanta as the key piece in the trade that sent outfielder Justin Upton to the Braves. Immediately after the trade was finalized, the D-backs inked Prado to a four-year, $40 million contract.

Prado was the symbol of the type of lineup that general manager Kevin Towers had wanted to build since taking over late in the 2010 season. The 29-year-old had a reputation for making pitchers work hard, being a good situational hitter and for coming through in the clutch.

During his time with the Braves, Prado was practically revered in the clubhouse for his approach to the game. Likely future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones called Prado the ultimate teammate.

When Prado reported to Arizona for Spring Training, he said he hoped to win the respect of his new teammates. This surprised many of them, since in their minds, he already had it.

At the outset of the regular season, though, Prado struggled at the plate, hitting .217 in April, while Upton got off to a torrid start, hitting 12 homers during the season's opening month.

"I think it was the first big contract that he's ever had, in a new city in a major trade with a very popular player that left here," Towers said, "probably putting added pressure [on him] to really prove to everybody that it was a good deal."

You can hear a bit of that in how Prado describes his approach at the plate during August vs. what he had been doing earlier in the year.

"I was thinking [early on] that we could win the game [with] just me doing good," Prado said. "Now I realize that we're nine guys, it's not like I have to do everything. So I just realized that we've got to win as a team and it's not about me."

Towers, though, said that early in the season, Prado might have been trying too hard to be a good teammate at the plate.

"I think he was almost so team-oriented early, he was always trying to move runners over and giving away at-bats at times just to try and advance runners," Towers said. "I think as he got more comfortable, he's been a little more aggressive at the plate. He's swinging it now. He's still getting runners over at times, but he's driving in runs."

Another popular theory that has made the rounds is that it was the team's visit to Atlanta at the end of June that helped Prado close the door on his past and move on. Prado received several standing ovations from the fans at Turner Field that weekend, and Jones recognized him during an on-field ceremony to retire Chipper's jersey.

By that time, Upton had cooled considerably at the plate as well. Meanwhile, Prado hit .364 during the series with the Braves and then started his two-month roll at the plate.

"A lot of things changed after I went to Atlanta, but an explanation, or a main reason, I don't have one," Prado said. "It might be a reason, but it's not going to be the main reason why everything is happening this way."

During his amazing month of August, Prado's teammates could only marvel at his production.

"He's been carrying us," first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said at one point towards the end of August. "He's been unbelievable since the All-Star break. He can do it all. He's been driving in runs, [he] moves runners, plays all over defensively, has long at-bats. He's been huge for us."

Of course, at the end of the day, there's really no way of knowing why the season unfolded for Prado the way that it did, but the D-backs are certainly happy with the way it turned out.

In addition to his work at the plate, Prado has been valuable defensively. He has played third base, second and left field, depending on who else manager Kirk Gibson has wanted to get into the lineup.

So after all is said and done, Prado's final stat line will be good. But he will evaluate the season based on a different set of numbers.

"Individual numbers at the end of the day really don't matter," Prado said. "I don't want to be the guy that they say, 'He had good numbers, but his team never won.' If we win and accomplish a lot as a team, then I'll look at my numbers, but not until we have success as a team."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.
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