Healthy Wells happy to be All-Star again
Enjoying resurgence, center fielder joined by Buck, Bautista
ANAHEIM -- It had been four years since Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells made an American League All-Star team. In the seasons between this one and then, Wells did all he could to stay on the field and in the lineup, but health hindered his production.
Given Wells' strong performance in this season's first half, it now seems clear that he played through pain during the 2009 campaign -- one that saw the center fielder put up some of the worst numbers of his career. It is the only explanation that seems to make sense.
"It has to be," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He never mentioned it one time -- not once."
Wells was held back by a right wrist injury that was corrected with offseason surgery, and now he is once again an AL All-Star, joined by Toronto teammates, catcher John Buck and outfielder Jose Bautista in Anaheim. It is their first All-Star experience and the third for Wells.
The last time Wells suited up for the AL's elite squad was in 2006 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where he went 1-for-2 with a single as the starting left fielder. That season, Wells hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBIs. That is the last time he managed to stay injury-free for an entire campaign.
In '07, Wells battled a left shoulder issue that led to surgery at the end of the season. One year later, he missed nearly two months between two stints on the disabled list -- thanks to a fractured left wrist and hamstring issues. Last year, Wells fought through lingering problems with his wrist.
Wells kept quiet about the injury all season and ended the year batting .260 with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs, representing his worst output since his rookie season with Toronto. The center fielder was determined to bounce back in a big way this year for the Blue Jays.
"You're going to struggle," Wells said. "It's inevitable. My job is to go out and play the game the right way. You go out and play as hard as you can and everything will take care of itself.
"This game is made up of failure. You have to be able to deal with it and move past it, learn from it. You're going to fail. It's how you respond to it that will define the kind of person and player you are."
Entering the All-Star break, Wells was batting .265 with 19 home runs, 26 doubles and 49 RBIs, putting him on pace to post similar numbers as he did in '06. It has been the type of performance that shows why the Jays invested $126 million over a seven-year extension after his last All-Star season.
"The way his year was last year," Buck said, "obviously he wanted to come out strong and prove to everybody and to himself, and also to the organization, that last year he was injured and, 'Look what I can do when I'm healthy.' Obviously he's had a good year."
Buck -- signed to a one-year contract over the winter -- was not around Wells during last year's struggles. Bautista was, though, and Toronto's right fielder said Wells had nothing to prove to any of his teammates.
"I don't think anybody in this clubhouse doubted that this is what he can do," Bautista said. "For him to go out and prove to a lot of people who might've doubted him, it's huge. Playing hurt is not usually the best way to judge somebody's talent or performances, but he did it and he did it in silence for quite a bit.
"Now that he's healthy, he's just doing what he can do."
Wells also gets to share his return to the Midsummer Classic with Bautista and Buck, who have been a big part of Toronto's powerful offensive attack this season.
Bautista leads the Majors with 24 home runs and has drawn 54 walks while driving in 54 runs. Dating back to the beginning of September, when Bautista moved into a full-time role, he has clubbed 34 homers.
"You definitely do appreciate it," Bautista said about the All-Star nod. "Just like I appreciated the consistent playing time from the Blue Jays. They gave me the ability to compete and to be able to put up numbers to even get chosen to be here. Being around all these guys, it really shows you that if you work hard enough and you get in a comfortable situation with a team and you're confident in your abilities, anything can happen."
Then there is Buck, who leads AL catchers with 41 RBIs and ranks second with 13 homers. He happily canceled plans to go to Niagara Falls to come to Anaheim.
"Obviously, it was nothing that was set in my mind at the beginning of the season, going to the All-Star Game," Buck said. "It was, 'Let's go have a good season, get back on my feet after kind of platooning with Miguel Olivo [in Kansas City] the last two years.' Getting the opportunity in Toronto, just to show everybody I could be an everyday catcher again. I don't think in my wildest dreams that I'd be coming to catch an All-Star Game."
Wells has enjoyed playing alongside both All-Stars.
"Jose, being able to play third base and being able to play right field," Wells said, "and play them both at a very high level, that's been huge. That's just from the defensive side of things. Offensively, he's kind of picked up where he left off in September of last year. It seems like once he's gotten a chance to play every day, he's taken full advantage.
"John Buck has been a pleasant surprise. Everybody knew, kind of playing against him, the kind of power that he had. But I think he's taken it to another level this year, learning how to pull the ball and do it with authority. And he's a good person for these young pitchers to be around."
For Wells, it is also fun to finally be back at the All-Star Game.
"You know, it's fun," he said. "I'm happy to be here. My family is here. It's been a little while. You just enjoy the time and hopefully this isn't my last."