Reporting from Baltimore — It was completely out of, well, left field.
Instead of letting Peter Bourjos replace lumbering left fielder Juan Rivera, the Angels on Tuesday inserted the speedy 23-year-old prospect in center field, where they happened to have a nine-time Gold Glove winner.
But Torii Hunter fully endorsed a move in which the All-Star center fielder will start in right field and Bobby Abreu will play left for the foreseeable future, saying it was his decision to help change the Angels' sagging fortunes.
"I can sit here and say, 'I want 10 Gold Gloves and center field is my position,' " Hunter said before the Angels' 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. "Sometimes you have to slap pride in the face and all that individual stuff, Gold Gloves … that's nothing. All I care about is winning, man. I need a ring. I've been to the playoffs seven times and haven't won anything."
The Angels haven't won much lately, and their struggles continued against the worst team in baseball. Luke Scott's two-run home run in the sixth inning against reliever Francisco Rodriguez sparked a four-run Orioles outburst that transformed a one-run deficit into a 5-2 lead and sent the Angels to their sixth loss in eight games.
Hunter, making his first start in the field at a position other than center field since Oct. 3, 1999, when he played left field during the Minnesota Twins' season finale, said it felt "pretty weird" in right field.
A mostly uneventful night took a dramatic turn in the eighth inning, when Hunter fielded Cesar Izturis' single through the right side of the infield and threw out Matt Wieters at the plate after the slow-moving catcher tried to score from second base.
"That was my first play out there in right field," said Hunter, who has played 1,502 games in center field and 27 in the corner outfield spots. "It wasn't so bad."
The Angels' new outfield alignment gives them improved coverage in the gaps, which had been an area of concern with the increasingly sluggish Rivera in left and the 36-year-old Abreu in right. It will also help alleviate wear and tear on the 35-year-old Hunter, who said "you know when it's time" to give up such a demanding position.
"I could stay in center field and try to run all day and then it takes longer for me to recover and really hurts the team because I can't feel my legs I've been running so much," said Hunter, who was hitting .203 with two homers and four runs batted in in his last 19 games before Tuesday.
Manager Mike Scioscia said he moved Hunter to right field instead of left because Hunter was "more suited" than Abreu was to stopping opponents from going first base to third on singles.
Bourjos quickly scooted up the Angels' depth chart in July, setting a Pacific Coast League record for hits in a month with 52, and moved from center field to left last week with triple-A Salt Lake in advance of his promotion.
But even he acknowledged that taking over for Hunter, a player Bourjos had grown up watching rob others of would-be home runs with otherworldly catches, was a complete shock.
"I never dreamed this would happen," said Bourjos, who was hitless in three at-bats in his major league debut.
Although Bourjos was batting .314 with 13 homers and had 27 stolen bases in 32 tries for Salt Lake, Scioscia said his promotion was "a move we might have made anyway just to try to get that defensive aspect."
With Abreu in left, Rivera will rotate through the corner outfield spots and occasionally play designated hitter, Scioscia said, so that the Angels can keep the hitter who had their top batting average (.319) in July in the lineup as much as possible.
Of course, the outfield shuffle won't help revive an offense that has hit .225 and averaged 3.1 runs over the Angels' last seven games.
"You can get frustrated all you want," Hunter said of the offensive woes. "The more frustrated we get, the worse it's going to get. All you can do is keep going out there, keep battling and try to make some adjustments."
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