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Move to right field helps Angels' Torii Hunter fill in some gaps in his knowledge

Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner as a center fielder, admits that switching to right to make room for young speedster Peter Bourjos has been a blow to his pride. But the 35-year-old says, 'It's cool, because I'm learning something new.'

August 10, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

The pride and ego that come with winning nine Gold Glove awards in center field aren't all that Torii Hunter has to suppress as he resumes his transition to right field Wednesday in Angel Stadium.

Hunter, who on Tuesday completed a four-game suspension for a testy argument with an umpire last Friday, will have to subdue the instinct — bred over a decade of being the lead dog in the outfield — to rabidly chase down every ball in the gaps.

"I'm going to call Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Cameron to see what the biggest adjustment was," Hunter said, referring to a pair of Gold Glove-winning center fielders who moved to right field. "It's cool, because now I'm learning something new. I was always told when you stop learning in baseball, your career is over."

Hunter, who switched positions on Aug. 3 to accommodate speedy 23-year-old center fielder Peter Bourjos, could learn a potentially career-saving lesson from Cameron: know when to yield to the center fielder.

Cameron, then with the New York Mets, moved to right to make way for new center fielder Carlos Beltran in 2005, and on Aug. 11 of that season, the two had a horrific collision in San Diego.

Running full speed for David Ross' looping fly to short right-center, both players dived and crashed — head to head, cheek to cheek — in midair, sending Cameron's sunglasses flying and leaving a blood stain in the grass.

Cameron broke his nose, had multiple fractures of both cheekbones and a concussion. He underwent facial surgery and missed the rest of the season. Beltran suffered a concussion and a minor facial fracture.

"Once we play together a couple more times, I'll know what his range is, what balls he can get to, then I'll know to let him have it," Hunter, 35, said before the Angels' 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night. "Right now, I'm going after every ball in the gap.

"Right field is not center. Center field is like a power trip. You tell the infielders, 'I've got it!' They've got to get out of the way. If I call off the left fielder, he has to get out of the way. Now, I've got to get out of the way if the center fielder calls it."

Manager Mike Scioscia believes the benefits of two outfielders with center-field mentalities outweigh the potential pitfalls.

"The center fielder takes precedent," Scioscia said. "If Peter gets into Torii's range, Torii knows to let him get it. I don't look at it as a challenge. I look at it as having overlapping range in the outfield, which is a good thing."

With the lumbering Juan Rivera in left and the aging Bobby Abreu in right, the Angels had little outfield range, and Hunter ran himself ragged.

Change was needed, so the Angels moved Bourjos to left field at triple A in late July, in anticipation of a promotion. But days before Bourjos joined the team in Baltimore last week, Hunter agreed to move to right.

"They didn't say you have to go to right field; they told me it was up to me," Hunter said. "I had to think about it, pray about it. It took me a couple of days with no sleep, but I decided to give this guy an opportunity to run down some balls in center field.

"It was tough. I'm human, and I didn't want to give up something I love. I don't think I've lost a step. I feel I can play center field with anybody. But it's not about individual stuff. It's about winning. I have a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger. I don't have a ring, and that's what I want."

Hunter and Bourjos have played four games together, and the rookie said the veteran has been a tremendous help with things like positioning and how to get better jumps.

"It's been unbelievable, awesome," Bourjos said. "The way he's treated me, it's like I've known him for a while."

This came as no surprise to Scioscia.

"Torii mentors anybody, whether you're a clubhouse kid, a player or a manager," Scioscia said. "This move would have been much more difficult without Torii understanding it and being behind it."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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