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In Angels' lineup, shortstop Erick Aybar is a man for all reasons

Manager Mike Scioscia has used the versatile Aybar in six spots in the batting order this season, an approach that seems to bring out the best in the 27-year-old shortstop.

May 23, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Shortstop Erick Aybar has been all over the Angels' batting lineup this season.
Shortstop Erick Aybar has been all over the Angels' batting lineup… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from trying to stuff a square peg through a round hole. Erick Aybar's came last season, when he tried to become something he is not: a prototypical leadoff batter.

The Angels shortstop, who this season has moved around the batting order as much as anyone in baseball, has always been an aggressive hitter. His favored approach has led to few walks, minimal pitches seen and a strong 2009 season in which he hit .312 with a .353 on-base percentage, 70 runs and 58 runs batted in.

Of the 135 games Aybar started that season, 92 came in the bottom three spots of the order. When longtime leadoff batter Chone Figgins left the Angels to sign with Seattle, Manager Mike Scioscia moved Aybar to the top of the order in 2010.

But Aybar, in an effort to be more patient and work more walks, let too many good-to-hit pitches go by and fell behind in too many counts.

Forced to protect the plate with two strikes and swing at the pitcher's pitch, Aybar hit .231 in the first two months of the season — all of his starts coming in the leadoff spot.

Then the switch-hitter rebooted his approach, scrapping that leadoff-batter mentality, and he recovered somewhat, pushing his average as high as .289 in late July.

However, by mid-August, Scioscia moved Aybar back to the bottom of the order, and Aybar finished with a disappointing .253 average and .306 on-base percentage.

This season, Aybar has already started in six lineup spots: first, second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. Only one other Angels regular, Howie Kendrick, has started in as many as four lineup spots.

"I don't change anything, whether I'm hitting first or second, eighth or ninth," Aybar said. "I go to the plate, see the ball and hit it. In some situations, you have to take some pitches, but I'm thinking about hitting the ball and not trying to do too much."

That singular approach has helped Aybar adjust more easily to different lineup spots and has given Scioscia the flexibility to plug Aybar into whatever place the team needs him the most.

Entering Monday night's game against Oakland, Aybar was batting .309 with a .349 on-base percentage, eight doubles, 14 runs batted in and 15 runs.

He was hitting .268 (22 for 82) in 19 starts in the leadoff spot, .389 (seven for 18) in five starts in the second spot, .333 (four for 12) in three starts in the sixth spot, .400 (six for 15) in four starts in the seventh spot, and .333 (four for 12) in three starts in the eighth and ninth spots.

What is Aybar's favorite spot?

"Whatever one they put me in, that's my favorite spot," said the 27-year-old native of the Dominican Republic. "I like them all. It doesn't matter.

"I just want to do my job and help the team win."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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