ANAHEIM, Calif. — Vernon Wells spent the past 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, becoming a franchise favourite while playing in the AL East shadows.
In the sunshine of his first home opener with the big-budget Los Angeles Angels, Wells isn’t sure how he’ll feel seeing the Blue Jays across the way.
“It will be interesting,” Wells said. “It will be fun to see the guys, but obviously it will be a little different. I’ll be in the other dugout. It will be a good time to get hot against my old friends.”
Wells’ first meeting with his former team is the highlight of tonight’s home opener for the Angels, who return from a 3-3 road trip hoping for a strong start at Angel Stadium.
Wells was the Angels’ biggest off-season acquisition, and the club needs him to live up to his US$26.1 million paycheque this season. He’s off to a 3-for-27 start in red, but Toronto presents a golden opportunity to get himself going.
Wells had 31 homers and 88 RBIs last season — impressive numbers, but not generally considered up to the standards of his $126-million, seven-year contract. Wells is in the fifth year of the deal, which could weigh down the Angels’ near future unless Wells produces commensurate numbers.
But Wells is far from the only concern for manager Mike Scioscia as he returns for his 12th season in Orange County.
After opening with three losses in four games in Kansas City, the Angels are home from a two-game sweep at Tampa Bay for a six-game homestand against Toronto and Cleveland. Los Angeles already is three games behind streaking Texas, with the defending AL champions off to a 6-0 start.
“I don’t think it makes much sense to look at the road trip,” Scioscia said. “Our challenge is ahead of us. The schedule keeps coming with a tough game every day, and you have to be ready for it. I think these last couple of days, there’s no doubt, injected this team with a little bit of confidence. I think as we move forward (we’ll) get some guys getting their feet on the ground playing more consistent baseball. We like our team. We just have to keep the grind.”
The Angels’ starting pitching has been as good as advertised, with Jered Weaver and Dan Haren making their second straight solid starts against the Rays. But Toronto will face Ervin Santana after No. 4 starter Joel Pineiro experienced more pain in his right shoulder last week, preventing him from coming off the disabled list for the home opener.
Santana won 17 games for the Angels last season, even more than AL strikeout king Weaver.
“It starts with pitching,” Wells said. “Our starting pitching has been really good. Obviously, these two games (in Tampa Bay), what Weaver and Haren did, Walden coming out of the pen, it’s fun to watch.”
The Angels will wear their 1980s uniforms for the home opener of their 50th anniversary season, and the first pitch will be thrown out by Eli Grba, the first starting pitcher in franchise history in its 1961 debut in Baltimore.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” second baseman Howie Kendrick said. “Toronto is a good team. They’ve got good pitching, but we’ve been playing really well, too. So it will be fun to see what happens.”