SAN DIEGO -- Vernon Wells' slash line heading into Sunday's series finale against the Padres (.244/.277/.422) certainly doesn't jump out at you, and it hardly displays improvement over a 2011 season in which the Angels outfielder had statistically one of the worst seasons in baseball.
But a closer look points to a man who's in a totally different mindset and, perhaps, turning a corner.
Wells, who had the day off on Saturday and wasn't used with the tying run on third and two outs in the ninth, is 8-for-23 over his last six games (good for a .348 batting average) and his strikeouts are way down so far. Through 37 games, he has 17 (half the total of Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick). Through 37 games last year, he already had 33.
To Wells -- who says he feels "a whole heck of a lot better" at the plate this season -- the strikeout totals are a sign that he's no longer the player who tried to do too much last year.
"This time around," Wells said, "I can just get back to playing the game that I've always been accustomed to playing. That's always been put the bat on the ball, do what I can do in the outfield in saving runs and things like that."
If there's anyone who understands the current pressures of Albert Pujols -- owner of a large contract, in Year 1 with a new team and probably trying too desperately to prove his value -- it's Wells, who was acquired from the Blue Jays two offseasons ago, is coming off a season in which he had the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the Majors and is still owed $63 million over the next three seasons.
Through his first 40 games, Pujols is hitting .216 with three homers, 18 RBIs and a .574 OPS -- and has yet to show much consistent progress.
"Obviously there's a lot of pressure put on him," Wells said. "Usually, it always goes back to the money in every situation. But he's accomplished more than 90 percent of baseball players would ever accomplish in their careers. It's a learning experience. He'll be the first to tell you that the failure in this game, it's what keeps you humble and keeps you trying to get better. Sometimes that's the greatest respect you have in this game, that you never have it figured out."