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Aybar works way into offensive prowess

Aybar works way into offensive prowess

ANAHEIM -- Erick Aybar entered the 2009 season with the label of a classic great-fielding shortstop with plenty of speed to burn and a rocket arm, but with a bat that left something to be desired.

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Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65
2008 record: 100-62
AL West champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Figgins: Staying true
Angels: Road warriors
Figgins/Abreu: Spark plugs
Bullpen: Stepping up
Figgins: The ignitor
Scioscia: Fundamental key
Vlad: Focused on present
Hatcher: Enjoying success
Scioscia: Approach the key
Aybar: More than just glove
Morales: Putting it together
Abreu: Lauded by 'mates
Wilson: Not alone
Vlad: Resume builder
Weaver: Family matters
Abreu: Hall of Famer?
Saunders: Overcame injury
Lackey: Playoff veteran
Kazmir: Ties to Morales
Jepsen: Remembering Nick
Weaver: Path to pros
Hunter: Humbled by honor
Lackey: It all began in '02
Weaver: Growing as player
Reagins: Built from within
Morales: Back in the groove
Abreu: Influence extends
Scioscia: Catcher at heart
Lackey: Halos' leader
Morales: Gomez's legacy
Abreu: Embracing his role
Jepsen: Honoring Adenhart
Lackey: Takes place as ace
Weaver: Glue of staff
Scioscia: Postseason fixture
Morales: Perseverance
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After all, he entered the season as one of the game's rangiest defenders, but had a career .262 batting average and a .298 on-base percentage while also struggling at the plate in the 2008 postseason with two hits in 18 at-bats as the Angels fell to the Red Sox in four games.

But the label was a bit unfair, considering Aybar was a .312 hitter in the Minors and his batting average in the Majors improved to a respectable .277 last season.

Aybar, though, made it a point to work on his offense this season, and it certainly paid off as the speedy switch-hitter led the team with a .312 average to go along with a much-improved .353 on-base percentage.

The change didn't come overnight, however, as Aybar spent much of the season working to get better at the plate.

"I've been coming to the ballpark earlier," Aybar explained. "I've been getting a lot of advice from Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter and [hitting coach] Mickey Hatcher. And I've been watching a lot of videos from the opposing pitchers, and that's been paying on off for me."

It further paid off in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday night, when he roped a crucial two-run triple in the seventh inning off Josh Beckett to help lead the Angels to a 2-0 series lead.

Aybar has made the Red Sox pay this postseason with three hits in seven at-bats after taking criticism last year, along with second baseman Howard Kendrick, for failing to produce in the postseason.

Aybar's '09 stats
AB 504
R 70
H 157
HR 5
RBI 58
AVG .312

The middle-infield duo combined for four hits in 35 at-bats in the postseason for a .114 batting average, but it's certainly changed this postseason, as the two have already matched those four hits in 12 at-bats for a .333 average.

Hatcher said he's already noticed a big difference in those two as the experience last season helped them want to get better this time around.

"I think a lot of it has to do with maturity," Hatcher said. "I think those guys really believe they can play. Being a young guy on a championship-caliber team is tough. It's not about developing anymore, you have to play winning baseball."

Aybar has certainly been helping the Angels play winning baseball with his glove this season, as he's rated as one of the game's top shortstops by just about every standard out there -- he finished the season tied for seventh in the Majors in fielding percentage and also finished sixth in the Majors in the advanced defensive metric, "ultimate zone rating."

So, Aybar not only has the range to get balls most defenders cannot, he also rarely makes a mistake with his soft hands and strong arm.

And his impressive work at shortstop this year hasn't gone unnoticed by Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

"You look at what he's done defensively, I think he deserves a Gold Glove," Scioscia said. "He and Chone on the left side of the infield have been terrific, Gold Glove caliber."

It's a sentiment echoed by the pitching staff as well as the Angels pitchers know that a ground ball to the left side is usually an out with the rangy and athletic Aybar and Figgins scooping up nearly everything in sight.

Division Series
Gm. 1LAA 5, BOS 0WrapVideo
Gm. 2LAA 4, BOS 1WrapVideo
Gm. 3LAA 7, BOS 6WrapVideo

"When a ball's hit to the left side of the infield, I'm OK with that," right-hander John Lackey said, grinning. "We've got a lot of talent over there with Figgy and Aybar."

And perhaps the most impressive thing about Aybar's transformation into a complete player is that he's still only 25 years old, and he just completed his first full season as the team's everyday shortstop.

"He's feeling comfortable playing at the big league level every day," Scisocia said. "Offensively, he's comfortable when to freelance and be creative and when to have an at-bat where he's working the counts. He's done a good job of that."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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