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Angels' outfield is a work in progress

Gold Glove outfielder Vernon Wells, speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos and Gold Glove outfielder Torii Hunter play as a unit for the first time in Angels' 8-7 exhibition victory against Oakland.

March 01, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Angels right fielder Torii Hunter signs autographs for fans before a spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Monday in Tempe, Ariz.
Angels right fielder Torii Hunter signs autographs for fans before a spring… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Vernon Wells didn't have to wait long for his baptism as the Angels' new left fielder.

The first three batters in Monday's 8-7 exhibition win over the Oakland Athletics hit the ball to left, with Wells catching two of them on the fly.

"I barely made it," joked Wells, a Gold Glove center fielder whose only other appearance in left field came in last year's All-Star game. "It's the same thing. Ball goes in the air, you catch it.

"There's more thought that goes into it because it's still something foreign to me. The more I do it, the more I play out there, it will just be like riding a bike."

With the speedy Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter — another Gold Glove center fielder — in right, the Angels have what could be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball history. But it's still a work in progress since Monday's game marked the trio's first appearance as a unit.

"The biggest component is going to be the relationship between Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "At the very best, this outfield is going to do all the things that are important to teams' winning games. Not just making the diving catch or robbing home runs or making spectacular plays. Just making more plays routine.

"Trying to get them together playing as one unit is going to take some time, but it's something we should be able to accomplish this spring."

Offensively, the trio is already clicking. In Monday's win, Hunter walked twice and scored, Wells had a single in three at-bats and Bourjos singled, doubled and scored twice. Bobby Abreu, making his spring debut as the designated hitter, also had a big game with a pair of doubles and a run batted in.

Welcome back

Hideki Matsui's return to Tempe was marked by a turnstile giveaway of red Angels caps that featured the player's No. 55 and his name spelled out in Japanese characters.

Matsui, who signed with Oakland as a free agent after one season in Anaheim, was greeted outside the Angels' clubhouse by reliever Hisanori Takahashi, a former teammate on Japan's Yomiuri Giants. Asked whether it felt strange returning to Diablo Stadium in a visitor's uniform, Matsui acknowledged he had mixed feelings.

"In a sense, yes. But in a way no," he said through interpreter Roger Kahlon. "It's just one year that I was here.

"I was able to make a lot of new good friends. But it was just for a year."

Matsui struck out and drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk in three plate appearances in his first game as Oakland's designated hitter.

Another kind of welcome

Mike Trout may be the Angels' top prospect — and, at 19 years 6 months, the youngest player in big league camp — but that doesn't mean he's beyond being punked by his teammates.

Several times during Monday's game, a message popped up on the right-field scoreboard inviting fans to call "Mike Trout directly with your baseball questions." Trout's cell number was included in the message.

"His phone's been going off the hook," pitcher Joel Pineiro said after leaving the clubhouse midway through the game. "Every time I go past his phone it's been ringing."

Trout wouldn't say what he did that made him the target of the prank, which was instigated by pitcher Jered Weaver.

"I deserved it," said Trout, who now has to change his number. "That's all right, though."

Bourjos also pleaded ignorance regarding what inspired the prank. But he said he enjoyed it.

"I'm not sure what happened, but he got him good," he said.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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