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Tall order is paying off for Angels' Vernon Wells

Adjustment to batting stance has made a huge difference for the outfielder, who got off to a slow start at the plate.

July 05, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels outfielder Vernon Wells hits a home run Monday against the Detroit Tigers. It's one of eight homers he has hit since adjusting his stance back in June.
Angels outfielder Vernon Wells hits a home run Monday against the Detroit… (Kelvin Kuo / US Presswire )

It began June 13 in Seattle with a slight adjustment in his batting stance. Vernon Wells straightened his upper body a bit, and the left fielder has stood tall ever since.

"Being comfortable in the box allows you to think about the most important thing, which is hitting the ball," Wells said. "When you're out of sorts mechanically, you're thinking about that in the box, and all of a sudden the ball is on top of you."

And by you. Or tapped for an easy ground-ball out. Or popped up for a routine fly-ball out.

That's how most of April and early May went for Wells, who hit .183 with four home runs, 13 runs batted in and 30 strikeouts in his first 35 games as an Angel before suffering a right groin strain May 10.

The Angels were heavily criticized in January when they traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto for Wells and the remaining four years and $81 million on his contract.

When Wells got off to such an abysmal start, the deal looked even worse for the Angels, but since Wells made that adjustment in Seattle, General Manager Tony Reagins hasn't taken as much heat.

Wells hit two home runs against Mariners starter Justin Vargas that night and has been on a power trip since, batting .270 (20 for 74) with eight homers and 17 RBIs in 19 games through Monday.

He was hitting .215 through Monday, well below his career mark of .280, but despite sitting out a month because of the groin injury, Wells ranks second on the team with 12 homers and has 30 RBIs.

"I'm getting to the pitches I'm used to getting to — the fastballs inside, the hanging breaking balls — I'm just putting the trust in my eyes and my hands to get to it," Wells said.

Before the adjustment, "I was getting locked up on fastballs inside and wasn't able to stay through on off-speed stuff, so I was pretty much screwed on any pitch they threw up there."

True glove

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia is not a huge fan of the new defensive statistics measuring things such as range and runs saved.

He feels they are inherently flawed because they don't consider factors such as where a defender is positioned and how a shortstop might lean toward the hole on an off-speed pitch, which makes it difficult to get a grounder up the middle.

But Scioscia will be happy to know that advanced metrics confirm what he feels — that the Angels have the best defensive outfield in baseball.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, the Angels outfield began Tuesday's game having saved an estimated 28 runs, the most in baseball.

According to fangraphs.com, center fielder Peter Bourjos leads all major league outfielders with 18 runs saved, two on his leaping catch at the wall to rob Miguel Cabrera of a two-run double Monday night. Right fielder Torii Hunter is tied for fourth with 14 runs saved.

Wells hasn't "saved" many runs, but he made a nice over-the-shoulder running catch Monday and raced far into the gap to catch Jhonny Peralta's second-inning fly Tuesday night.

"Some plays have slipped through the cracks, but for the most part, you can't ask much more from an outfield than what those guys are doing," Scioscia said. "They've been difference-makers."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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