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Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu embraces DH role

ANGELS FYI

Others sometimes balk at the move, but the outfielder says he is fine with it and will start working during spring training to make necessary adjustments.

February 21, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Bobby Abreu doubles in the first inning against the Oakland A's at Angel Stadium.
Bobby Abreu doubles in the first inning against the Oakland A's at… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — A question about moving to designated hitter hadn't even been translated to English when former Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero, upon arriving at camp in 2008, began shaking his head firmly.

"No, no," Guerrero said. "I'm a right fielder."

No matter how much his defensive skills eroded, Guerrero always balked at being a DH, unless an injury prevented him from playing the field.

There is no such resistance this spring from Bobby Abreu, who has yielded his corner outfield spot to Vernon Wells, the three-time Gold Glove winner acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in January.

Abreu, who turns 37 on March 11, will back up Wells in left field and Torii Hunter in right. After struggling defensively on the corners in 2010, he will open the season as a full-time DH for the first time in his 13-year career.

"I'm fine with it," Abreu said. "I've always been on the field, but now I just have to get ready to hit. I will have to make adjustments right away. I need to talk to some guys who have been a DH to see what they do."

Abreu, a career .296 hitter, spent his first 10 years in the National League and has appeared in only 46 games as a DH, batting .257 (47 for 183) with two home runs and 27 runs batted in. But he already has some ideas about the role.

"I know I'll have to do something in the clubhouse to stay loose between at-bats, like riding the exercise bike," Abreu said. "I will start those adjustments in spring training."

Like most of his teammates, Abreu is looking to bounce back from a subpar year. The switch-hitter batted .255 with a .352 on-base percentage, 20 homers and 78 RBIs after hitting .293 with 15 homers and 103 RBIs in 2009.

Abreu, known for his patience and plate discipline and surprising speed — he stole 30 bases and was caught eight times in 2010 — has a .400 career on-base percentage and had 100 RBIs or more eight times from 2001 through 2009.

Slated to bat second in front of Hunter, Kendry Morales and Wells, Abreu needs to get on base at a much higher clip to ignite the offense.

"I wasn't consistent," Abreu said. "It was a bad year. Everyone has a bad year, and that was mine."

Was it just a bad year, or is age finally catching up to Abreu?

Abreu is in the final year of a two-year, $19-million contract that includes a $9-million option for 2012 that would vest with 433 plate appearances in 2011. Abreu has averaged 699 plate appearances over his major league career.

If Abreu struggles again, the Angels would have a financial incentive to drastically cut his playing time so the option, which can be bought out for $1 million, does not vest.

But if he returns to his 2009 form, it would significantly boost an offense that scored 681 runs and ranked 27th in baseball with a .311 on-base percentage last season. The Angels scored 883 runs and ranked third with a .350 on-base mark in 2009.

"I don't think age was really a factor," Abreu said. "It could have happened much earlier. It's not like, 'Oh no, something is going on.' There's nothing going on. I hit the ball good. There are no problems at all. It's not like a bad sign."

Short hops

Former Angels greats Tim Salmon and Chuck Finley joined camp as guest instructors Monday. Salmon, the former outfielder and 1993 American League rookie of the year, was looking forward to meeting Mike Trout, the 19-year-old center fielder who is widely regarded as the top prospect in baseball. "I'm Fish," Salmon said, invoking his nickname, "so who is he?" Among the suggestions for Trout's nickname, as submitted by fans through Twitter: "Lil' Fish" and "Caviar." … Jered Weaver and Dan Haren were among the pitchers who threw live batting practice Monday for the first time this spring.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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