Abreu imparts wisdom to Angels hitters
Disciplined batter counseling leadoff candidates
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, his spring interrupted by a right elbow strain that sidelined him for two weeks, has been searching for his timing and rhythm in the batter's box.Aybar's .219 batting average and .297 on-base percentage through 36 Cactus League plate appearances are of no concern to his mentor. "He's going to be one of the best leadoff men in the game," Bobby Abreu said. Set to hit second, between Aybar and Torii Hunter, Abreu also is off relatively slowly. He's batting .182 in 22 at-bats, and tightness in his upper right arm had him out of the lineup Friday at Scottsdale Stadium with the Giants sending National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum to the mound. Aybar was 2-for-4 on Thursday in Tempe against the Rangers and had a third hit stolen on a great defensive play. In his first two at-bats against Lincecum, Aybar worked the count full and lined singles to right field. The shortstop struck out in his third at-bat against Lincecum and stroked an RBI triple in the seventh to complete a 3-for-4 day. "He's finally getting a sense of timing, a chance to see some pitches," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Erick had some good at-bats today. All our guys did." Abreu, one of the most disciplined hitters in the game, is seeing signs that Aybar is gaining the patience needed to extend at-bats and draw walks. Drawing freely and daily on Abreu's wisdom last season, Aybar raised his career on-base percentage from .298 to .353, a whopping 55-point gain. He also led the club with his .312 batting average. "One of the things I really like right now is how he's working the counts better," Abreu said. "With his speed, he can bunt any time. He's always a threat to drop one down. "He's learning how to use all of his ability now. He is understanding the game more. Being a switch-hitter, he's always working on his stroke from both sides of the plate. One thing he's learning is not to force it too much." Aybar figures to get the majority of the leadoff assignments, but Maicer Izturis also will get his share as he moves from third to second to short, serving as a semi-regular.
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Chone Figgins, who signed a four-year free-agent deal with Seattle, was convinced he'd left the leadoff job in good hands -- in part because of the presence of Abreu and his impact on Aybar and Izturis."Bobby's always talking to guys, making them better," Figgins said recently. "He'll be there to remind Aybar and Izzy what they need to do. I learned a lot from Bobby last year, and I'm sure those guys will take advantage of what he has to show them." Aybar never stops listening to the knowledgeable Venezuelan. "Bobby is the best," Aybar said. "He helped me a lot last year. I admire Bobby Abreu. He's not only a great hitter, but he's a great person. "He's a simple man, a humble man. He shows you what is important. I'm always watching him to see how he does things on the field." Abreu moved quickly after the 2009 season to sign a two-year contract with an option for 2012, maintaining he's never been happier than he was after signing his one-year free-agent deal with the Angels. "I really appreciate the way they appreciate the things I do," Abreu said. "They give me respect, and I respect them. "Chemistry to me is very important. We play together, stay together." One tip Abreu emphasized to Figgins, and carries to Aybar and Izturis, is that it's not a good idea as a leadoff man to slip into a pattern of taking first pitches in every at-bat to try to draw out the count. "If it's a first-pitch fastball he can hack, he should take a good swing," Abreu said, referring to Aybar. "You don't want to take away a guy's aggression, but you want him to control it. If the pitch isn't there, he takes it and then starts working the count." Abreu has spent most of his career hitting third, and with good reason. He has driven in at least 100 runs in seven consecutive seasons. While Abreu is the second hitter in the early lineup drafts, he could return to the third spot if manager Mike Scioscia elects to use Izturis, Aybar or Howard Kendrick -- a contact hitter who drives the ball to right and right-center -- as his No. 2 hitter. "I have no problem hitting second," Abreu said. "I hit the same way, basically, no matter where I am. I like how our lineup sets up. We've got speed and power with the first three hitters, and then we have power all the way down through the lineup. "This lineup can hurt you. I think we're going to score a lot of runs. I have a lot of confidence in these guys. "When we get out on the field, it's like we own the field. The confidence we have is that high."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.