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02/19/11 3:00 PM EST
Abreu eager to tackle transition to DH
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bobby Abreu, always one of the coolest cats in The Show, strolled into Angels camp on an overcast Saturday morning and was his typically sunny, smiling self. If the prospect of a major change -- from full-service right fielder to primary designated hitter and swing outfielder -- has cost him any sleep, it certainly doesn't show in his expression or his manner. "Things will work out," Abreu said. "In this game, you're always making adjustments. This is something new, yes, but I've played the game a long time and I'm pretty sure I can adapt all right." Vernon Wells' arrival from Toronto and the solid claim Peter Bourjos planted in center field during the final two months of 2010 have opened right field for Torii Hunter. This leaves Abreu, one of the game's most durable and productive performers for 15 Major League seasons, in an unaccustomed role. "If I can play a few games a week in the outfield, maybe a game in left and one in right, something like that, I'll be fine," Abreu said. "We have four guys for those three positions, and it will be good to keep guys fresh. "I'm confident I can come back and have a good year, help the ballclub win and get back to where we want to be. That's the important thing. When you've played as long as I have, it's all about winning, doing whatever you can." Abreu admittedly had a down year in 2010, his numbers suffering across the board in relation to the high standards he has set over the years. A career .296 hitter in 9,084 plate appearances, Abreu slipped to .255. His .352 on-base percentage was down from a career .400, and his .435 slugging mark was off his .488 lifetime number. In spite of all that, he still managed to drive the ball -- 41 doubles, 20 homers -- and run the bases aggressively with 24 steals. A run of 12 consecutive seasons with at least 100 runs created in the Bill James formula -- matched only by Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez among active players -- was halted when Abreu accounted for 91 runs in 2010. Rodriguez's streak ended in 2008, Ramirez's in 2007. Unlike those two iconic figures, Abreu, who turns 37 on March 11, has spent his career under the radar, racking up numbers in Philadelphia, New York and now Anaheim with numbing consistency. What's more, he's almost Cal Ripken-like in his durability. If he can find his way into the box score 150 times again this year, Abreu will stand alone in having done that for 15 consecutive seasons. He's currently tied with Willie Mays for the all-time lead, the 1994 season cancellation having ended Ripken's run. For his career, Abreu has averaged 174 hits, 103 walks, 40 doubles, 21 homers, 97 RBIs, 105 runs scored and 29 steals per 162 games played. Few players, active or inactive, can boast of that brand of production. The point is, the man from Venezuela commands respect. And he is determined to show there's a lot left in his tank. "It's a big year for us, to show we're still one of the best teams, a contender," Abreu said. "I want to do my part." Angels manager Mike Scioscia is secure in his belief that Abreu, likely hitting second in the order, will do what he's always done: work counts, get on base, get around the bases and drive in runs. "Bobby's a great guy and a great player," Scioscia said. "He knows how to play the game the right way, and he's a leader. "He's one of those guys who can set the table and clear it. We need his production. We had a bad year in terms of on-base percentage and creating offense, and we need to turn that around. Bobby's a guy who can help us do that." Abreu's leadership, falling in the quietly effective category, was perhaps most apparent in Kendry Morales' emergence as a big-time force in 2009. Morales had a tendency to swing at pitches outside the strike zone with runners in scoring position. Abreu kept stressing that by being more disciplined and waiting for something in his comfort zone, he'd find himself in better counts -- and produce happier results. When Morales finally relaxed and began putting Abreu's words and thoughts into action, he became one of the game's most lethal threats, finishing with 34 homers, 108 RBIs and a fifth-place standing in the American League's Most Valuable Player balloting. Morales is taking it slowly this spring in his recovery from surgery on his lower left leg, and here again the soothing words of Abreu can be helpful. "Kendry is a great talent," Abreu said. "He was really taking off, putting it all together. That's why it was such a shame when he got hurt last year [on May 29 celebrating his game-winning grand slam against Seattle at home plate]. "Getting him back will be huge for us. But he has to take it one step at a time, not try to do too much." Morales has heard those words before from Abreu. "When Bobby talks," Morales said, grinning, "I always listen to him. He's a smart guy."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.