Practice helps Jays' Wells get into good April swing

AL Notebook

May 07, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND REPORTS FROM OTHER NEWSPAPERS.

Vernon Wells' solution to his April woes couldn't have been simpler.

Start offseason batting practice a little earlier.

That's all the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder did to transform from a notorious slow starter to runner-up for April's American League Player of the Month Award.

"I started hitting in November; normally I don't start hitting until January," he said.

Wells, 27, bought a soft-toss pitching machine over the winter and took it to a batting cage at a high school near his home in Texas.

"I started three times a week and then I got to the point where I was just trying to do it every day," he said.

The first three seasons of Wells' career were pretty similar: weak starts, solid summers. But last year he batted .191 in April, got hot in the summer, and then hit just .245 in September. His 2005 average (.269) was his career worst over a full season.

"Once the season ended last year it was a disappointing feeling, and I focused on what I needed to do to get better," he said. "I figured I had to change something because what I had been doing ... wasn't working."

The early work has paid off. A career .221 April hitter who had had just 13 homers and 49 RBIs in 403 at-bats in that month, Wells hit .396 with nine homers and 25 RBIs this April.

He said he didn't feel any differently at the plate than in other Aprils; the results are just a world better. So he'll be swinging a bat each November from now on.

Homecoming

Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome returned to Jacobs Field in Cleveland last week and was booed lustily by the fans who adored him from 1991 to 2002. Thome, who signed a six-year, $85 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2003 season and was traded to Chicago in the offseason, took the catcalls in stride.

But his outspoken manager, Ozzie Guillen, didn't. "To me, it was kind of embarrassing," Guillen said. "Even Cleveland players were shaking their heads. Cleveland people don't know how much Jim Thome meant to this town. You don't boo a class act. That's OK, we'll clap for him in Chicago."

Homecoming II

New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon returned Monday to Boston's Fenway Park, where he had won a World Series with the rival Red Sox. Boston fans booed him, chanted his name tauntingly and threw fake paper money at him.

Damon, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract in the offseason with the Yankees, tipped his helmet to the corners of the stadium before his first at-bat.

"I felt like a lot of the fans wanted to see that," he said. "I heard more cheers than jeers at that point, so I was going to do it. And when I stepped into the batter's box, they were just going to boo the uniform."

Homecoming III

By the time Toronto closer B.J. Ryan entered Monday's game, there weren't enough people left at Camden Yards to really acknowledge the former Oriole who signed a five-year, $47 million deal with the Blue Jays. There were more boos than cheers, but there wasn't a lot of reaction, period. As Ryan was walking out of the visiting tunnel for the first time, however, Blue Jays reliever Scott Schoeneweis yelled, "This is the house that B.J. built," drawing a laugh from Ryan.

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