Mariner outfielder's production dropped off after being on the nose by pitch.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Casper Wells can’t do anything about the six weeks taken from him.
Those happened late last season, when Wells and a handful of other Mariner hopefuls were given a head start at auditioning for the 2012 team in August and September. Wells was making the most of it and had clubbed home runs in four consecutive games when he was hit on the nose by a Brandon Morrow pitch on Aug. 17.
The rest of his season careened downhill for Wells, who suffered from what the team termed a balance disorder and lost his chance to make a big impression. But after spending the winter getting healthy, he’s focusing on spring training as he tries to land a spot in Seattle’s outfield.
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“I’m coming in here looking to be an everyday player in left field,” said Wells, 27, one of the players acquired from Detroit in the Doug Fister trade last July. “That’s the mindset pretty much anybody has to have coming into spring training, and that’s the mindset I take with me every time out.”
It might have been the team’s mindset as well had Wells not been beaned. The problems Wells described as a short circuit in the nervous system coincided with a 3-for-45 slide at the plate the final six weeks of the season.
That’s why, heading into the team’s first intrasquad game on Friday, Wells is not viewed as the primary left fielder but the best candidate for a reserve outfield spot. Mike Carp is penciled in as the left fielder, and his decent splits against left-handed pitching mean that any platoon situation with the right-handed hitting Wells could be limited.
But the Mariners will also need somebody to spell Franklin Gutierrez a couple of times per week in center field given his recent health issues and a desire not to overuse him, and maybe Ichiro in right field once in a while.
An ability to play center will be key, and that’s something Wells, along with Michael Saunders and Darren Ford, does rather well.
“He’s a plus defender with great arm strength and has a real good feel for the outfield,” Mariners outfield coach Mike Brumley said. “He’s good at all three positions and can cover center field if you needed him to. Obviously, he’s great in the corners. Being a right-handed bat with our lineup being left-handed dominant throughout, you’re looking at him to supply some of that big pop against some of the better left-handers.”
Wells just wants to make a better showing this spring.
“I’d never really had to deal with getting hit in the face by a baseball like that before,” Wells said. “They never found out whether that’s what caused all the stuff I was feeling, but it all started pretty soon after that. I’m pretty aware of my body and what goes on with it, and I know that I wasn’t completely right.”
Wells sought treatment from a chiropractor in the offseason and believes his nervous system was “reset.”
“I was told that any type of traumatic force can throw your nervous system off,” he said. “Well, I can tell you, it doesn’t get much more traumatic than having a 97 mph fastball coming right at your head. That had never happened to me before.”
The vision problems and dizziness he experienced are gone. Wells still visits the chiropractor, but devoted the rest of his offseason to improving his speed and maintaining the strength the Mariners saw last fall.
Wells managed 11 home runs in just 241 plate appearances for the Mariners and Tigers last season, and that raw power certainly opened eyes. He needs to improve his strikeout rate of nearly 30 percent, though the vision problems may have contributed to that.
If Wells makes better contact and keeps hitting it deep, the Mariners might have to find more spots for him to play.
“I’m looking forward to showing them the kind of player I know I can be,” he said.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
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