Angels Are Backing Up Perez Project With Edmonds, Not Snow

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels' grand plan to make sure Eduardo Perez gets the 500 at-bats, which will allow him to become the impact player they are certain he will become, changed the look of the team this spring. Concerned that Perez's tender elbow would not hold up to the rigors of playing left field, the Angels moved him to first base.

Bo Jackson and Dwight Smith ended up sharing duties in left field. And J.T. Snow ended up in Vancouver.

The Perez project has been in a holding pattern for four days, however, because of a combination of strained ligaments in Perez's left hand and a batting average that has been above .221 only three days all season.

Did the Angels rush to recall Snow?

Actually, they never even considered it.

"Jim Edmonds has done an awfully good job of filling in," Manager Buck Rodgers said. "We haven't missed a lick with him in there."

After Sunday's 7-0 victory over Oakland, the Angels are 5-2 in the seven games Edmonds has started this season, providing increased impetus for the Edmonds project--his own personal plan to get him as many at-bats as possible.

"The change of scenery puts a little fire into you," Edmonds said. "You really get into the action at first and it's so fun to feel like you're contributing. I'm just going out there trying to prove I'm capable of playing this game and I'll take any opportunity, anywhere."

Edmonds, who hit .246 in 18 games with the Angels in the final month of 1993 after hitting .315 in Vancouver, didn't get much practice playing first during spring training because the Angels were concentrating on getting Perez prepared. Edmonds hadn't played first base since his first year in professional baseball in 1988, but when he started there on April 14 against Toronto, it wasn't long before the Angels knew the kid was all right.

"We knew he (Edmonds) could play," Manager Buck Rodgers said. "He's probably the second-best outfielder on the club, but the way he can pick it at first has been a pleasant surprise. I knew we were in good shape in that first game when he made that play to get the lead runner."

Edmonds made a nice backhand stab of a shot by John Olerud and then spun around and fired a strike to second to force Joe Carter. And he's already earned a couple of cameos in the 1994 Angel highlight film with sprawling catches of balls destined for right field.

"I'm having a lot of fun," Edmonds said. "I've taken a lot of extra ground balls down there and I feel I can field the position. It's weird. I thought I'd have to earn my playing time with my bat, I never figured I'd be getting any because of my defense at first base."

Edmonds was hitting .444 before an errant throw by Yankee shortstop Mike Gallego hit him in the neck April 26. He missed five games because of dizziness and lost some of his confidence and rhythm at the plate. Still, in the past four games, Edmonds has five hits in 17 at-bats. He's struck out six times, but he has also driven in four runs.

"I was rusty for awhile, but I felt pretty good the last couple of days," he said.

And Perez, who is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday, has been Edmonds' most vocal supporter.

"I've been cheering for him and he's been looking pretty darn good," Perez said. "It's great to see a friend, a guy who's been through the minors with you, doing good.

"(The injury) has been frustrating for me, but part of the reason I've been holding up so well is because Jim is doing such a great job. I'd feel a lot worse if he wasn't."

Edmonds knows he will soon be relegated to back-up outfield status, but he's open to any suggestions. He is ambidextrous, after all, and could probably borrow a glove for his left hand.

So, if any of the other infielders need a little rest . . .

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