Angels' Torii Hunter said move to right field was his decision
It was completely out of, well, left field.
Instead of letting Peter Bourjos replace lumbering left fielder Juan Rivera, the Angels on Tuesday inserted the speedy 23-year-old prospect in center field, where they happened to have a nine-time Gold Glove winner.
But Torii Hunter fully endorsed a move in which the All-Star center fielder will play right field and Bobby Abreu will play left for the foreseeable future, saying it was his decision.
"I can sit here and say, 'I want 10 Gold Gloves and center field is my position,' " Hunter said before the Angels played the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. "Sometimes you have to slap pride in the face and all that individual stuff, Gold Gloves ... that's nothing. All I care about is winning, man. I need a ring. I've been to the playoffs seven times and haven't won anything."
It was the first time Hunter had started in the field at a position other than center field since Oct. 3, 1999, when he played left field during the Minnesota Twins' season finale. Hunter has played 1,502 career games in center field and 27 in the corner outfield spots.
The Angels' new outfield alignment gives them improved coverage in the gaps, which had been an area of concern with the increasingly sluggish Rivera in left and the 36-year-old Abreu in right. It will also help alleviate wear and tear on the 35-year-old Hunter, who acknowledged "you know when it's time" to give up such a demanding position.
"I could stay in center field and try to run all day and then it takes longer for me to recover and really hurts the team because I can't feel my legs I've been running so much," said Hunter, who was hitting .203 with two homers and four runs batted in in his last 19 games before Tuesday.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said he moved Hunter to right field instead of left because Hunter was "more suited" than Abreu was to stopping opponents from going first base to third on singles.
Bourjos quickly scooted up the Angels' depth chart in July, setting a Pacific Coast League record for hits in a month with 52, and had moved from center to left last week with triple-A Salt Lake in advance of his promotion.
But even he admitted that taking over for Hunter, a player Bourjos had grown up watching rob others of would-be home runs with otherworldly catches, was a complete shock.
"I never dreamed this would happen," Bourjos said.
Even though Bourjos was batting .314 with 13 homers and 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts for Salt Lake, Scioscia said his promotion was "a move we might have made anyway just to try to get that defensive aspect."
With Abreu in left field, Rivera will now rotate through the corner outfield spots and occasionally play designated hitter, Scioscia said, so that the Angels can keep a hitter who had their top batting average (.319) in July in their lineup as much as possible.
The switch apparently was days in the making and was one Hunter agonized over.
"It's tough, man," Hunter said. "I didn't sleep for about three or four days, just thinking about it, praying about it. ... Center field is my home. That's what I love and anything different after 12 years, you're kind of sad a little bit."
--Ben Bolch in Baltimore