Healthy Wells running at will for Jays

Healthy Wells running at will for Jays

TORONTO -- Vernon Wells tends to revert back to his deadpan routine when asked about certain on-field accomplishments. That was the case once again when the Blue Jays center fielder was asked about the two bags he swiped Saturday.

"I'm a singles hitter and I haven't got on base in a while," Wells quipped. "So I figured, 'Why not run?'"

All joking aside, the fact that Wells -- the Blue Jays' cleanup hitter -- is running more often these days is a great sign for Toronto. He missed much of Spring Training with a strained left hamstring and sat on the disabled list for a month last season with the same issue.

Wells has shown no lingering problems so far this season, convincing Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston that he is healthy enough to again have the green light on the basepaths. Through 39 games, Wells has swiped six bags, already surpassing the four he stole in 2008.

"I'm obviously way ahead of my pace, so that's good," Wells said. "I'm going to run as long as I can. I'll just continue to hopefully make good choices on the bases. I have the green light, so I'm going to run as much as I can."

Not only does Wells have the freedom to run, Gaston has also given the outfielder control over when to steal.

"Vernon is on his own," Gaston said. "Sometimes, I think it's better if you have guys that are green and you let them go on their own. Sometimes I'll stop them, but I think they get more of a feel than if you say, 'You've got to go. You've got to go.'"

On Saturday against the White Sox, Wells singled with one out in the sixth inning and promptly stole second base. In the eighth, Wells did the same. After that successful sprint, Adam Lind doubled to right field, and Wells scored easily to tie the score at 1. Jose Bautista followed with a base hit that put the Blue Jays ahead for good in the 2-1 victory.

Wells' stolen base proved integral in the win.

"I feel good, healthy," Wells said. "When you have guys swinging the bats like guys are up and down the lineup, you want to move up and make productive plays instead of taking ourselves out of innings."

Entering this season, it wasn't clear if Wells would be afforded the freedom to run, considering his history of hamstring injuries. Gaston even discussed handing Wells some starts as the designated hitter to provide some more rest for the veteran outfielder. So far, Wells has played in all of Toronto's 39 games and only once served as the DH.

Wells said that he works with Toronto's training and medical staff daily on keeping his legs fresh. That includes stretching and strengthening exercises aimed at avoiding a recurrence of the same hamstring issues.

"It's more of just stretching," Wells said. "We have deep-tissue guys and I'm getting my lower back worked on with a chiropractor. We're just trying maintenance stuff, just making sure everything is strong and just staying in the weight room. So far, so good.

"It's pretty much an everyday thing that I'm doing something to maintain strength and flexibility."

Wells is also constantly working with his swing, which he said is coming along. Through 39 games, Wells has hit .270 with five home runs and 21 RBIs, posting a .326 on-base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage. Wells also ranked third on the team with 26 runs and 71 total bases.

As Toronto's fourth hitter, Wells knows there is plenty of room for improvement and he feels he's beginning to get more comfortable in the batter's box. His 2-for-3 showing on Saturday followed a rough 1-for-15 skid at the plate, leading Wells to jokingly refer to himself as a "singles" hitter.

"It's getting better, little by little," Wells said. "I'll just continue to work, watching film, taking extra swings in the cage and it'll come around. When it does, hopefully it'll stay around for a while."

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