Monday, May 24, 2010

Wells back upstate after trip to the bigs

Casper Wells connects on a base hit against the Oakland Athletics during his brief stint with the Detroit Tigers last week. After being sent down to AAA Toldeo, Wells, a former Schenectady High and South Troy Dodgers player, made a stop in Syracuse Monday night against No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg. (Photo - Associated Press)

Our Chris Fitz Gerald made the ride west on I-90 to talk with Wells and filed this story.

SYRACUSE -- Casper Wells is taking a philosophical approach to this season.

After spending a week with the Detroit Tigers and making his major league debut, the center fielder is back down with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens again and taking this in stride.

"That's the way it goes," said Wells, who grew up in Schenectady. "That's life --- you've got to roll with the punches sometimes if you want to make it to the top."

The soft-spoken Wells, in his sixth year in the Detroit organization, is humble about his first experience in the major leagues.

"I'm pretty optimistic that I did some good things and that I'll be back up there sometime soon," the 25-year-old Wells said after batting practice before Toledo's game at Syracuse's Alliance Bank Stadium on Monday night. "I'll keep doing what I'm doing and good things will happen."

Appearing in four games with the Tigers, Wells collected his first major-league hit as well as a two-run double.Wells was optioned to Toledo on Saturday as Detroit called up utility outfielder/infielder Ryan Raburn.

"It was a great experience," said Wells, who starred for Schenectady High and the South Troy Dodgers before attending Towson University. "This is what I've been working for and I really enjoyed it. Now I have to keep working hard so I'll get another chance."

Wells had an eventual Monday evening as he singled in a run in the fourth inning --- the first earned run yielded in 21-plus innings by highly-touted pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg, who entered the night with a 0.00 ERA in four starts for the Syracuse Chiefs.

After striking out swinging in the second inning, Wells connected on a 95-mph fastball, swinging on a first pitch to single to left field between shortstop and third base to drive in veteran Carlos Guillen to tie the game at 2-2.

"We knew we had to be aggressive with his fastball early in the count," Wells said. "When we were aggressive on some of his first pitches we had some success."

Wells finished 1-for-4 at the plate with an RBI in the 6-3 loss to Syracuse before a crowd of 13,288 --- the second largest in franchise history (478 shy of the record set in Strasburg's first start here this spring).

"We had some situations where we hit the ball later on, but we just couldn't capitalize on those chances," Wells said. "But that's baseball --- it seems to happen that way sometimes and they got it done."Strasburg experienced his worst start of the season with Syracuse, allowing five hits and one earned run in five innings of work in a no decision in which he struck out five and walked none.

"They're an aggressive team, but you just have to stick with the game plan," said Strasburg, who left after 52 pitches (36 for strikes) and is rumored to be a possible callup to make his major-league debut against the San Diego Padres on Saturday. " ... I think I definitely learned a bit here --- my curveball wasn't really working like it usually has, my changeup was cutting on me a little bit. My fastball, especially on the inside, was a lot better than it has been. So I'm definitely going to build on that."

Wells already had a history of success against Strasburg --- the No. 1 selection overall by the Washington Senators in the 2009 draft --- as he belted a grand slam against the high-powered right-hander in an Arizona Fall League game last October.

"He's a good pitcher, he's not going to make too many mistakes," Wells said of the 21-year-old Strasburg before the game.
"Hopefully I'll get a good pitch to hit and hopefully we can draw some good counts to get some pitches to hit off him."

Nearly two weeks ago, Wells was recalled by the Tigers on Friday, May 14 just in time for a series with the Boston Red Sox.

"It felt good, because I wasn't doing incredibly well down here," said Wells, "and maybe struggling a little bit. But for them to still give me a shot makes me feel good."

Wells made his major-league debut that night and went 0-for-4 at the plate, but was sensational in left field. With two one and two out in the fourth inning, Wells tracked down a single by David Ortiz and gunned down second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a laser throw to home plate.

"Being a former pitcher, I want to make my presence known out there," Wells said. "I like to make some throws out there and not have runners advance and not have them score, that's what I try and do out there."

After serving as a defensive replacement the next night in Detroit's 7-6 victory in 12 innings, Wells returned to action last Wednesday in Oakland and recorded his first major-league hit with a solid single to left field off Dallas Braden, who in his last start pitched a perfect game on the same field against Tampa Bay.

"t was a huge weight off my shoulders," Wells said of his first hit. "I thought, 'I got that, now it's time to play baseball.'"Wells followed with a two-run double to the left-center field gap to provide Justin Verlander with a four-run lead as the Tigers won 5-1.

"It's a good balance," Wells said of Detroit's roster. "The position guys talk to the younger guys and help them with developing and getting used to the major leagues. With a balanced group of guys like that you're going to have a winning team and they do have a good team this year whether I'm up there or not."

Although he'll always remember his first major league hit, Wells is more impressed by his double.

"They walked (Johnny) Damon and I just went out there and tried not to do too much and be relaxed," Wells said. "He left a slider over the plate and I just put it in play --- it went in the gap and a couple runs scored. It's great to help the team out."

Although his West Coast trip was cut short, Wells enjoyed his time there, checking out San Francisco with fellow rookie Danny Worth, who went 3-for-3 in Wednesday's victory.

"San Francisco was fun, it's a great city," he said. "And I went to Dodger Stadium for the first time, so I was pretty excited about that. It was a pretty good experience."

Wells received some positive feedback from the Detroit coaching staff before he was sent down.

"They said I did a good job while I was up there," Wells said. "And they had Raburn come back up because he did a good job for them last year and they're comfortable with him. But they gave me a taste and I'm still pursuing my dream."

"Casper did very well and accounted for himself very well," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press.Wells went 2-for-9 in four games with Detroit, including a double and two RBI.

"It's always nice when you can go in there and help the team out right away," Wells said. "I think that bodes well for the whole Detroit Tigers organization, we've got so many good young players throughout the minors who can step in and help the team."

Wells is one of several young stars in Detroit's system, which includes power-hitting outfielder Brennan Boesch, who has thrived in his rookie campaign up with the Tigers.

"It sees like when the younger guys are doing well, it bodes well for me because I'm a younger guy," Wells said. "They give younger guys a chance and that's all you can really ask for."

Wells is now hitting .216, with six doubles, a triple, five home runs and 13 RBI in 33 games with Toledo this season.

He hopes he won't have to wait long for another chance with Detroit.

"I just have to keep things in perspective so I'll get another chance up there," Wells said. "I'll continue to do what I can to help the team out."

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