An­gels’ Ay­bar is wiser now

Short­stop is em­brac­ing his lat­est try at hit­ting first in the An­gels’ bat­ting or­der and mak­ing it work.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna mike.digio­vanna@la­times.com Twit­ter: @MikeDiGio­vanna

At 31, he knows bet­ter than to change his ap­proach to fit where he is in the bat­ting or­der.

ST. PETERS­BURG, Fla. — Short­stop Erick Ay­bar chuck­les as he re­calls the 2010 ver­sion of him­self, the one the An­gels tried in the lead­off spot.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound switch­hit­ter fit into the role then about as com­fort­ably as he would fit into Al­bert Pu­jols’ uni­form.

“It was al­most like I was a lit­tle kid back then,” said Ay­bar, now 31. “I put too much pres­sure on my­self.”

In his first try as a lead­off man, Ay­bar was tabbed to re­place Chone Figgins, who hit .298 with a .395 on­base per­cent­age and an Amer­i­can League-lead­ing 101 walks in 2009 be­fore sign­ing with the Seat­tle Mariners.

Ay­bar is an ag­gres­sive hit­ter and has never walked more than 36 times in a sea­son. But he be­gan 2010 think­ing he had to take more pitches, work counts and draw walks.

Th­ese are the de­sired traits of a good lead­off man, but they were not in Ay­bar’s DNA. He hit .238 with a .310 OBP in the first two months of the sea­son.

“I think Erick tried to change his game to some­thing that re­ally took some of his strengths away,” Manager Mike Scios­cia said. “Erick is not go­ing to strike out much. He’s go­ing to put the ball in play. He’s re­ally not at his best when he’s try­ing to work counts and take walks.”

Three weeks into an­other stint at lead­off, but older, wiser and more ex­pe­ri­enced — he has 1,086 at-bats as a lead­off man — Ay­bar knows bet­ter than to try to change his ap­proach to fit his po­si­tion in the bat­ting or­der.

“Back then, I tried to be like Figgins,” Ay­bar said. “I tried to take some pitches and get some walks and it didn’t work. Now, I go to home plate, and if the pitch is right there and I can han­dle it, I swing. I don’t want to change my ap­proach.”

The An­gels have lost five games in a row be­fore Tues­day night’s game at Tampa Bay, and if they are to snap out of a sea­son-long of­fen­sive funk they’ll need Ay­bar to pro­vide a spark at the top of the or­der, a spot he was moved to May 18.

The early re­turns: not great, not bad.

In 18 games at lead­off, Ay­bar is hit­ting .247 with a .391 OBP, 11 runs, 13 strike­outs and four walks. Those num­bers were bet­ter be­fore a twofor-15 skid in his last four games.

Ay­bar’s ca­reer .273 bat­ting av­er­age and .312 OBP in the lead­off spot is on par with his over­all .277 av­er­age and .317 OBP, an in­di­ca­tion he feels more com­fort­able there.

“I don’t think you ever ask a player to do some­thing he’s ei­ther not com­fort­able with or not suited for,” Scios­cia said. “With Erick, although he’s not go­ing to see as many pitches as a tra­di­tional lead­off guy, he’s ath- letic, he’s go­ing to get in scor­ing po­si­tion a lot.

“His on-base is not go­ing to be off the charts, but it’s not go­ing to be aw­ful, ei­ther. He’s go­ing to get on base enough, get in scor­ing po­si­tion enough to where he can still be ef­fec­tive as a ta­ble-set­ter.”

It’s tough to draw walks bat­ting in front of one of base­ball’s best al­laround hit­ters, Mike Trout, be­cause op­pos­ing pitch­ers don’t want to put any­one on base ahead of Trout.

“I think you see more strikes, but not nec­es­sar­ily more fast­balls,” Scios­cia said. “You’re not go­ing to see guys try to paint [the cor­ners] on that 2-and-2 count. Guys are go­ing to come af­ter you. … Guys who hit in front of Al­bert, in front of a guy like Mike, you’re most likely go­ing to have to hit your way on.”

Ay­bar is not a slug­ger op­po­nents fear, and he has no­ticed a lot more pitches in the strike zone lately.

“It’s not just good — it’s very, very, very good,” Ay­bar said of hit­ting in front of Trout. “It’s a lot dif­fer­ent hav­ing him be­hind you. He’s one of best hit­ters in base­ball. They’d rather face Ay­bar. They don’t want to face Trout, be­cause he can go deep to any field.” Up next

An­gels right-han­der Matt Shoe­maker (3-4, 5.08 ERA) will op­pose Tampa Bay right-han­der Nathan Karns (3-2, 3.63) on Tues­day at 4 p.m. PDT at Trop­i­cana Field. TV: FS West; Ra­dio: 830.

Alex Gal­lardo As­so­ci­ated Press

ERICK AY­BAR of the An­gels has a ca­reer .273 bat­ting av­er­age in the lead­off spot, on a par with his .277 over­all av­er­age.

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