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Numbers point to center, but Angels will move Mike Trout back to left

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With each step that Peter Bourjos takes toward his projected June 10 return from a hamstring injury, a growing chorus zeroes in on Mike Trout.

And Mike Scioscia puts in his ear plugs and carries on with his day.

No, the Angels manager said Thursday. Trout will not remain in center field when Bourjos returns.

Absolutely not.

The topic probably won't reach the din of last year's Trout/Miguel Cabrera MVP debate. But the Angels have a legitimate issue on their hands -- and one that will grow very interesting if Trout cools off anytime soon after moving back to left field.

After a slow start this season, Trout has recaptured his 2012 lightning since moving over to center field.

In 33 games playing center this season, Trout is hitting .331/.401/.654 with eight home runs and 25 RBI.

In 22 games in left field, he's hitting .247/.327/.412 with two home runs and 12 RBI.

"Mike is a center fielder. We've said that," Scioscia says. "At times, his versatility, we need to tap into that. Peter is just an incredible center fielder, and that takes some pressure off of some of the guys if you're able to play a corner."

Translation: Trout and Josh Hamilton can save their legs by not having to cover so much ground in center. And that means, in Trout's case, that he can continue to run with abandon on the bases.

Scioscia refuses to see a direct correlation between Trout's hot May and his move back to center field, his preferred destination.

Rather, the manager says, he thinks Trout's surge is coming as a result of getting more comfortable after a handful of early at-bats, and stepping past the Rookie of the Year award, which Scioscia says caused Trout to be under a microscope early.

"And now, I don't know if anybody's connected the dots to say now he's hitting in front of Albert Pujols,” Scioscia says. “Where before, he wasn't.

"Has anybody ever thought of that?"

Well, yes, as a matter of fact.

Over eight games batting leadoff, Trout is hitting .278/.333/.417 with no home runs and one RBI.

In 45 games batting second, Trout is at .302/.379/.587 with 10 home runs and 36 RBI.

“Our team was in utter turmoil the first three weeks of the season,” Scioscia says, essentially dismissing Trout's lower numbers in the leadoff spot based on that and a small sample size.

Since “connecting” to Pujols -- Scioscia's phrase for Trout batting second ahead of Pujols' third -- the manager notes Trout has scored more runs and accumulated the most number of at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Clearly, Trout is settled into the two-hole after batting leadoff for much of last year. And even though Pujols isn't what he once was, batting directly in front of him remains one of the game's biggest perks.

But it's the outfield thing that will bear watching. Because even when Bourjos returns, the Angels are going to have decisions to make because the kid isn't going to play every day. And as good as J.B. Shuck is swinging, Scioscia must find a way to rotate his bat into the lineup -- and Shuck isn't going to play center field.

So there will be days, clearly, when Bourjos is off and Trout slides back over to center field with Shuck in left and Josh Hamilton in right.

Is it fair to bounce Trout, 21, back and forth?

Might it affect him at the plate?

If he's going to be as good as expected, you would think the answer to that last question would be no.

“It's not like we asked him to catch,” Scioscia says.

Going into Thursday night's Freeway Series finale, Trout was tied for fourth in the majors in the month of May with eight homers, and his 42 runs scored this season ranked second in the American League.

Trout, who hit for the cycle earlier this month, is the first major leaguer to collect four triples and eight homers in a month since Sammy Sosa in May, 1994. The Angels are 19-10 this season when Trout scores a run, and 5-19 when he doesn't score.

“I can't say it any clearer,” Scioscia says. “We know Mike is a center fielder. But I don't expect a drop-off because he moves from center field to left."

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