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Teammates laud Abreu's presence
Angels laud Abreu's presence
By Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM -- There are players you hate to face but love to embrace.
A player with few peers in this class is Bobby Abreu, who is transformed from hated to loved, from menace to your main man, the moment he pulls on your jersey and graces your outfit.
"He can control a game from the batter's box," Angels pitcher Jered Weaver said. "How many hitters can do that?"
Angels catcher Jeff Mathis has experienced the full breadth of Abreu's offensive talents, from his patience and versatility at the plate, to his smart, aggressive baserunning abilities.
"He's fun to watch," Mathis said. "He's definitely one of those guys you love to have on your team and hate to play against.
Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65 2008 record: 100-62 AL West champs
"Every time he came to the plate when we were playing the Yankees, you knew you were in for a battle. He usually likes to look at a pitch or two, but sometimes he'll swing at the first pitch -- just to keep you honest. He's such a smart player."
Among Abreu's significant milestones this season were 30 steals combined with 103 RBIs, a rare 30/100 combo he achieved for the fifth time. Only Barry Bonds and Hall of Famers from a long-ago era -- Hugh Duffy, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb -- had done that at least five times.
Abreu also joined Willie Mays, Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Craig Biggio as the only men in history to produce at least 250 homers, 2,000 hits, 1,000 RBIs, 1,000 runs and 300 steals.
A free agent this winter if the Angels don't retain him, Abreu can join Mays next season as the only performers to play at least 150 games in 13 consecutive seasons.
All of the Angels' starting pitchers have dealt with Abreu, Scott Kazmir more than the others.
Pitching for the Rays before his Aug. 28 move to the West Coast, Kazmir was housed in the same American League East hotbox as Abreu's Bombers.
"I said from the beginning, as soon as I got here, that I'm really happy to be on his team now," Kazmir said, grinning. "This guy shows you the way to do it. He doesn't throw anything away -- any at-bat, any pitch.
"He makes the other team work for everything it gets. He gives his teammates a look at what the opposing pitcher has, because he's up there for so long. If you had nine Abreus, you'd have 400-pitch ballgames."
Kazmir has watched Abreu's quiet, soothing influence spread through the ranks.
"Just by watching him, younger guys can pick up on things and see how it works," Kazmir said. "He is very unique because of the skills he has -- his discipline, his power, his ability to drive in runs, steal bases. He's a special player."
Youthful teammates such as Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales have made noticeable improvements over the course of the season in subtle yet vital aspects of the game. Both freely and frequently credit the 35-year-old right fielder from Venezuela.
"Abreu has helped me in many ways," said Aybar, whose .312 average led the club. "He's always showing me things, teaching me the right way."
Bobby Abreu was a key contributor to the AL West champion Angels in 2009
Inheriting first base from Mark Teixeira, Morales emerged as a major force around midseason, finishing with 34 homers, 108 RBIs and a .307 average. At Abreu's urging, Morales became more selective, especially with runners in scoring position, and put himself in better hitting counts.
"I listen to everything Abreu says," said Morales, a .330 hitter after the All-Star break with 19 homers and 59 RBIs in 267 at-bats. "He is a smart man. He knows what he's talking about."
Mike Scioscia knew the Angels were getting a top-flight player when they signed Abreu in February to a one-year, $5 million deal. What the manager didn't realize was that his team also was acquiring a teacher whose patience as a mentor rivals his approach to hitting.
"Going into Spring Training, we knew what Bobby could do on the field," Scioscia said. "Some of the spillover effect he's had on a whole lineup has been a big surprise. I think he has influenced guys in a positive way."
In terms of impacting a game, only pitchers and catchers can fully understand what Abreu brings.
He can drive them crazy with seemingly interminable at-bats, getting to 3-2 and fouling off strikes until he finds one he can drive.
"He's in the elite class of hitters," Weaver said. "He can wear you out with his approach. He's one of those guys you don't fully appreciate until he's on your team and you see what he does every day."
The guy you hate to face becomes the guy you love to embrace.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.