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ANGELS PLUS

Always GREENER : Angel Utility Man Hopes to Improve Hitting, Play Every Day

May 04, 1999|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Todd Greene knows, as well as anyone, that the world is not perfect. But that doesn't stop him from dreaming.

"In a perfect world, I would like to come to the park every day and not have to look at the lineup card to see if my name is on it," Greene said. "But that's for established veterans and I'm not there yet."

At 27, the Angels would have hoped Greene would there by now. But for the Angels' 12th-round pick in the 1993 amateur draft, the world has been a little flawed. The man-without-a-position, who has been plagued by injuries the last two years, is relatively healthy these days. But his bat has been ailing. So on this night, when he checked the lineup card, his name was nowhere to be found.

He wasn't catching, which he has done four times. He wasn't playing left field, where he has started three games. He wasn't even the DH, which he has been 12 times in a starting role.

He was sitting while Tim Unroe, a journeyman infielder who split time between with triple-A Iowa and with double-A West Tennessee last year, took Greene's spot in left field.

Even though he is eager to play every day, Greene knows he has been struggling at the plate.

"The last week has been difficult," said Greene, who is three for 26 in his last nine games and has seen his average drop from .268 to .209. "My offense has been awful. It's unacceptable to me.

"I'm a streaky hitter anyway. I'm generally not very good in April. But right now, I'm not in a position where I can afford that."

Greene tries not to use his ever-changing positions as an excuse, but he admits, the instability is wearing on him.

"It's not easy," he said. "There's a different mind-set for playing left field, for catching and for DH-ing. Darin Erstad goes from first to third in the order and goes from center to first base, and he's learned how to deal with it. I think I'll have to have some conversations with him about that. He's figured it out. I'm not there yet."

Angel batting coach Rod Carew is trying to help him get there. He recently had a long talk with Greene about his hitting plan. The subject was so sensitive to Greene, Carew wouldn't go into detail about their conversation. But he did say he would like Greene to start using the entire field.

"He can drive the ball the other way," Carew said. "Sometimes he gets into a pull mode. It just hasn't come together for him. He says he's trying to go the other way, but I see it differently. Sometimes he's pulling his head off."

And sometimes, Greene is swinging at curve balls out of the strike zone. And other times, he's looking curve and getting fastballs down the middle. Most times, he's behind in the count.

Greene said he needs to go back to basics.

"I need to start at zero," he said. "I'm listening to too many people. I'm not being aggressive enough. I have to be me. When I'm being myself, I do go the other way."

Greene has hit one of his four homers to the opposite field, which encouraged Carew and Manager Terry Collins.

"He's shown he can do it, so it's a mental thing," Carew said. "But if I'm a pitcher, I'm going to fire away at the outside corner until he makes an adjustment."

Collins thinks Greene just needs to relax.

"He's trying too hard, there's no doubt about that," said Collins, who expects to give Greene more playing time when Mo Vaughn vacates the DH spot and returns to first base, which could happen as early as today in Detroit. "We've talked with him about being selective, being patient."

But Collins also understands why Greene might be a bit overanxious.

"He's a young guy who hasn't played a whole lot the last two years," Collins said. "He's trying to make an impact. You can't blame him for that."

You also can't blame Greene for his last two injury-riddled seasons. One publication's minor league player of the year in 1995, Greene appeared ready to make his mark in 1997. He hit .354 in Vancouver through 64 games, then was hitting .290 with nine homers and 24 RBIs with the Angels before a foul tip broke a bone in his hand and ended his season on Aug. 20. Last year was a disaster. Off-season shoulder surgery in 1997 limited him to 29 games with the Angels.

Greene's shoulder is still far from sound, though he has reported no pain. He is still considered the team's catcher of the future, but the Angels are playing it safe.

"He might be able to play every other night, but why risk it now?" Collins said. "We want to keep building his arm up. He's going to mean a lot to us in the future."

The future can't get here fast enough for Greene, who seems to treat every night off as a wasted year. He'd rather catch--a position the Angels groomed him to play, even though he was an outfielder in college. But he'd settle for DH or left field.

"I'd even rotate between all three if I knew I was going to play every day," he said. "This game's unforgiving enough. If you're in and out of the lineup every day, it's even tougher."

The toughest position for Greene has been left field.

"When I'm catching, I can't think about hitting," he said. "When I'm DH-ing, I can go in the cages and work on things with Rod [Carew]. When I'm sitting out there in left field, I have all this time to think about how silly I looked on my last at-bat."

And when his name isn't on Collins' lineup card, Greene has even more time to think.

"I'll get through this," Greene said. "I'm good enough to work through it."

The Angels are betting on it.

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