SEATTLE – Casper Wells believes the key to his recent post-Tacoma surge has been his mindset. Eric Wedge leans toward Wells’ improved mechanics at the plate.
Mariners fans don’t really care – they’re just happy to see a current Seattle hitter who doesn’t look overmatched at the plate, or psyched out by Safeco Field.
In a season in which a variety of young Mariners hitters have been given shots at showing why they deserve to keep playing, Wells so far is running with his belated opportunity. Since returning on June 13 from a three-week stint in Triple-A, he is hitting .291 with a .361 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging percentage in 17 games.
He’s also delivered in key moments, none bigger than the bases-loaded double to key a comeback win over the Orioles. So far he hasn’t succumbed to the epidemic Safeco slump. His on-base plus slugging at home (.722) is higher than on the road (.711). Brendan Ryan is the only other player who can make that claim, and his numbers are much more modest (.599, compared to .518).
Wells was hitting .213 in sporadic playing time when he was sent down on May 24 to make room for Miguel Olivo coming off the disabled list.
(when many fans were clamoring for Chone Figgins’ release).
He says the key to his success has been “staying more positive with everything. Having more trust in your ability. And just going out there when it’s time to be out there, and compete. Compete against the pitcher. That’s your only job at the time.”
“You don’t focus on yourself and your mechanics or anything like that. You just compete and look for a good pitch to hit. Your innate ability and your subconscious mind will take over. You try to get in that state of mind where you let everything react. That’s where you let your athletic ability work for you.”
Wells doesn’t think he got away from that mindset. It’s not like he had an epiphany in Tacoma. It’s just that he’s finally had a chance to put it to use as Wedge has found a spot in the outfield for him almost every day since his recall.
“I just wasn’t playing a lot,” Wells said. “I don’t think there was anything wrong with me at all.”
Still, Tacoma was helpful to Wells in that it he was able to hone his game, rather than languish on the bench.
“I look at everything as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I got a chance to play every day and knew I’d be in the lineup the next day. I could learn from my at-bats, learn from my mistakes and learn from what worked, and get a consistency, not only physically, but mentally. That’s what I brought when I came up.”
What Wedge sees is a player more under control with his leg kick, with better balance at the plate and a quieter swing that allows him to use his hands more effectively.
“I see the confidence,” Wedge said. “You can see it in his eyes.”
You can see it in his presence. That’s great, and so important. But what you see fundament- ally, or mechanically, that’s real.”
“If he was up here doing the same things he had done prior, and having success, you’re not too sure about it. But when you see him slowing down, being in a better position, being in a stronger position to hit, that’s something you can sink your teeth into.”
Wells, 27, seemed on his way to establishing himself with the Mariners last year, after the July 30 trade with Detroit that brought him to Seattle along with relievers Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin and minor-league third baseman Francisco Martinez for pitchers Doug Fister and David Pauley.
At one point, Wells homered in four straight games at Safeco Field, and had an .859 OPS heading into an Aug. 17 game against Toronto. That night, he was hit on his nose by a 97 mph Brandon Morrow fastball in a frightening incident at Safeco. The aftermatch was not pretty.
Whether it was that contact, or the violent way he whipped his head out of the way, the aftermath was not pretty. Wells suffered from what the team called a balance disorder that led to something akin to vertigo. He went into a 0-for-28 tailspin and hit .067 (3 for 45) his last 15 games before the Mariners shut him down in mid-September.
It’s not something Wells wants to rehash, but he acknowledges, “Obviously, it’s something that’s tough to overcome. , and it put me behind the eight-ball a little bit coming into spring. But I feel healthy now. I feel confident and positive.”
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