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Angels' slumping Vernon Wells is kept out of starting lineup

Outfielder is sore from crash into left-field fence. Hank Conger is recalled from minors, Tyler Chatwood is sent there.

August 18, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Vernon Wells, shown relaxing before a game in June, was hitting .126 (11 for 87) with one homer and five RBIs in the last 22 games before being benched Thursday night.
Vernon Wells, shown relaxing before a game in June, was hitting .126 (11… (Dan Levine / EPA )

Vernon Wells was sore from a crash into the left-field wall Wednesday night, but it was his eyesore of a batting average, along with some other hideous numbers, that kept him out of the lineup Thursday night.

"He was a little banged up," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But he was going to get the day off anyway."

(Wells entered the game in the seventh inning and struck out in the eighth.)

The Angels are at a loss to explain Wells' dramatic decline since the 32-year-old was acquired from Toronto in January.

Wells was a career .280 hitter who averaged 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in for 91/2 seasons. Four and a half months into 2011, he's hitting .201 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs.

Though he's never been known for his patience, Wells averaged 45 walks a year before the trade. He has 15 walks this season and is so anxious at the plate he rarely gets to three-ball counts.

He's reached new depths in the last 22 games, hitting .126 (11 for 87) with one homer and five RBIs.

"When you project performance, you go on past record, how a player's skills are and what you think he'll do," Scioscia said. "You'll see a little fluctuation with guys, and it could be 15-20% at times. A guy might have 100 RBIs one year and 80 the next; he'll hit .300 one year and .260 the next.

"With Vernon, you're just scratching your head because it's so out of character for even what he's done in some of his lesser years. The bat speed is there. He just hasn't found the timing and rhythm to square up balls consistently."

Scioscia said Wells is physically sound. Wells sat out a month from early May to early June because of a right groin strain, but soon after returning he went on a 36-game tear in which he hit .273 with 12 homers and 28 RBIs.

Scioscia dismissed the possibility that Wells, whose Blue Jays rarely contended in the American League East, might be wilting under the pressure of his first division race.

"We weren't in a pennant race in April, and he was struggling," Scioscia said.

The Angels have to be patient with Wells because they're stuck with him; after this season, he has three years and $63 million left on his contract.

"He's stunned — he can't believe what's going on," right fielder Torii Hunter said of Wells. "It's tough to see a guy who's been so dominant for so long not be able to find it. These next six weeks, we need him."

Conger returns

The Angels moved to bolster their sagging offense Thursday, recalling catcher Hank Conger from triple-A Salt Lake and optioning struggling pitcher Tyler Chatwood to triple A.

Journeyman right-hander Jerome Williams will replace Chatwood in the rotation and start Sunday against Baltimore.

Williams, 29, was called up from Salt Lake and threw two-thirds scoreless innings of relief Wednesday night, his first big league appearance since 2007.

Conger was hitting .214 with five homers and 16 RBIs and struggling defensively when he was sent to Salt Lake on July 19. In 27 triple-A games, Conger hit .300 with five homers and 26 RBIs.

Angels catcher Jeff Mathis is solid defensively, but with a .177 average, two homers and 17 RBIs entering Thursday, he is one of the worst hitters in the major leagues.

Chatwood, 21, is 6-9 with a 4.35 earned-run average and has been brilliant at times, but he is 0-3 with an 8.53 ERA in his last four starts.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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