In the fourth inning of Monday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, Vernon Wells hit a ground ball to third base and then limped about a quarter of the distance to first before he was thrown out. He left the game with a groin injury — now being called a right groin strain. Wells was placed on the 15-day DL after the game. Reggie Willits was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake to fill the roster spot.
As a collective whole, Angels fans probably breathed a small sigh of relief when Wells was put on the DL. You never want to see a guy injured, but when your $87 million acquisition starts the season with a .184/.223/.304 slash line there’s not a lot to be excited about. A lengthy recovery and rehab will give Wells the time to get his head right and solve the issues plaguing his start with the Los Angeles Angels.
In the interim, what are the Angels going to do about the vacancy in left field? Bobby Abreu probably makes the most sense; however, much of his speed has left him, and he can’t cover the kind of ground he used to in the outfield (not that it was ever a lot in the first place). Abreu has been very happy and putting up decent numbers at his DH spot. In order to keep Abreu healthy and hitting for the long-term, it is probably best not to tire him out by playing him in left every day. A spot start here or there is okay, but the Angels should not overwork an aging Abreu, whose option will most certainly vest for 2012.
Another potential option is Alexi Amarista, a recent call-up. It is small sample, but he is only 2-for-14 with an OPS of .402. He is struggling to find his big-league swing — like most rookies in their first call-ups. Amarista also came through the Angels farm system as an infielder, at second base mostly. He has started twice in left for the Angels. It is probably wise to keep him in the infield roles he is most comfortable with while he finds his swing. Amarista has no experience in the outfield, so it is also probably wise to use him there in spot starts.
Willits also could see time in left field. Manager Mike Scioscia seems to have given up on the Willits experiment, however. Willits had minor success in his first call-up in 2006, and as soon as pitchers adjusted, he has struggled. While his career slash line of .262/.358/.305 (this is factoring in his hot start, which skews the numbers somewhat) is a mild improvement over Wells’ start, he is not a long-term solution in the outfield. Scioscia has mainly used Willits as a pinch runner and a defensive replacement late in games the past few years. His call-up to the big club is just filling the roster spot, and he will most likely fill the same roles Scioscia has given him the past few years.
The two wild-cards are Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick. Trumbo had some experience in the outfield in the minors, but he is strongest at first, where all his starts have been with the Angels this year. Trumbo has added some needed pop to the Angels lineup with a team-leading 6 HR and posted a decent .782 OPS to start the year. His glove and speed in the outfield could pose a problem, but Peter Bourjos covers enough ground to mitigate any damage there.
The real wild card is Kendrick. The majority of his starts have been at second base this year, but he has worked at first base as well. For tonight’s game, Scioscia gave Kendrick the nod in left despite Kendrick never having played a game in the outfield in the minors. Kendrick is arguably the Angels best hitter at this point, and Scioscia is juggling lineups to get the best bats out there.
Maicer Izturis (2B/SS/3B), Erick Aybar (SS), Kendrick, Abreu, and Trumbo are currently the Angels best hitters. Scioscia is merely following the hot-hand philosophy and hoping something sticks in the field. Scioscia has been more innovative with his line-up this year than in years past, and we will probably see a continuation of this trend throughout the year.