Vernon Wells bats in the fifth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (Jeff Golden / Getty Images )
CHICAGO — Vernon Wells worked with former Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo last winter to fix a swing that didn't work in 2011, when he hit a career-low .218 with 25 homers and 66 runs batted in.
Since coming off the disabled list in late July, the outfielder has worked with Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard to improve his rhythm and timing, which have been off in four starts in nine days, in which Wells went 0 for 15 with five strikeouts.
The Angels can only hope their next option isn't St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, but that seems to be the direction of things for Wells, whose salary ($21 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014) far exceeds his production.
Wells was the starting left fielder when he tore a ligament in his thumb on May 20, but the emergence of young stars Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo reduced him to a reserve's role.
Like any power hitter, Wells needs to play regularly to find a comfort level that will lead to consistent contact and production. But is it realistic to think he can find a groove — and contribute — playing two or three times a week?
"You might not find a groove, but you have to have better at-bats," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You might not get locked in, but it doesn't mean you're not going to contribute. Vernon should be on some pitches and hit the ball hard even with limited playing time."
Wells hit .308 (eight for 26) with two homers in a seven-game triple-A rehabilitation stint, but that has had no bearing on his big league performance. Not that the Angels were expecting it to.
"Minor league at-bats are minor league at-bats," Scioscia said. "It's good to get in shape, to see velocity, but the only way to get acclimated to major league pitching is to see it and hit it. And that's what Vernon is going through right now. You have to be able to get it done. That's the bottom line."
With fewer opportunities, it's natural for Wells to press when he plays, and that can only compound his struggles.
"He really needs to get simple," Scioscia said. "Start with singles, and the power will come. ... I think he's jumping at the ball. His load is a little hard, and it's affecting his rhythm and timing. He's working hard, and hopefully he'll find something that's going to let him contribute."
Major League Baseball is expected to rule Monday on the Angels' protest of Friday night's game, but the chances of a decision favoring the Angels are remote because it involves an umpire's judgment. Of the disputed play, which involved Angels catcher Chris Iannetta's errant throw to first with the Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko running inside the line, crew chief Dana DeMuth said, "Konerko in no way interfered with the play — the catcher threw wild." … Shortstop Erick Aybar (hairline fracture in right big toe) is expected to be activated for Monday night's game at Oakland. ... Reliever Scott Downs (shoulder strain) will begin a throwing program Monday.