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Angels' Erick Aybar is ready for a bounce-back season

Aybar batted only .253 and made 21 errors at shortstop while battling injuries in 2010. The 27-year-old and the team are eager to move on.

March 07, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Angels shortstop Erick Aybar makes a relay to first base during a spring training drill last month.
Angels shortstop Erick Aybar makes a relay to first base during a spring… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)

Reporting from Mesa, Ariz. — Erick Aybar has already forgotten last summer.

"Last year is over," he said as he sat in front of his locker at the Angels' spring training complex. "This is a new year."

And, Aybar and the Angels hope, a better one. First, a review of what Aybar had to endure in 2010:

• Injuries to his left groin and left knee, the latter requiring off-season surgery to repair.

A career-high 21 errors at shortstop. Only one other player in the American League made more.

A .253 batting average — well below his .312 average in 2009 and 21 points below his career mark — and a career-high 81 strikeouts.

"I had a bad year," Aybar said in Spanish.

But it was also a season of transition for the 27-year-old who, for the first time in his big league career, was playing without Chone Figgins beside him on the infield and without close friend and confidant Vladimir Guerrero dressing next to him in the clubhouse.

"Any time the dynamics of a clubhouse change, especially when guys are close, it can have an effect," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Vladdy definitely was a support netting for Erick in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways Erick supported Vladdy. They were close."

The Angels may have added to that discomfort by moving Aybar, an aggressive free swinger, to the leadoff spot. Though Aybar drew a career-high 35 walks, his on-base percentage of .336 as a leadoff hitter was better than only one AL player with at least 300 plate appearances.

"We all feel that he got a little tentative," Scioscia said. "Even though we said, 'Just play your game. Use your bunting. Swing at the first pitch if you think it's in there,' he tried to do things that really aren't a part of his game. And it affected him."

How it will affect the Angels this season remains to be seen. But if Aybar really is able to put 2010 behind him, Scioscia says it will make him a better player and the Angels a better team.

Take Monday's Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs as an example. Not only did Aybar, batting leadoff, start an eight-run, third-inning rally with a run-scoring single, but he also threw a runner out at the plate from shallow left field.

"He's matured a lot. Now he can handle maybe understanding what a bounce-back has to be," Scioscia said. "He's relaxed, he's looking great so far in everything he's doing, whether it's a drill or playing in games."

In addition to relaxed, he's also unusually well-rested at this point in the spring. Partly because of the October knee surgery, Aybar skipped the winter league season in his native Dominican Republic for the first time in several years.

"I wanted to play. But I couldn't," he said. "I feel a little bit strong. Thank God the knee is good. My health is good. I don't have any pains.

"And I'm working hard to get better."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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