Gaston settles on Wells in cleanup spot

Gaston settles on Wells in cleanup spot

ARLINGTON -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston took his time in deciding whether to place center fielder Vernon Wells in the lineup's cleanup spot to open this season. Gaston weighed his options during the spring and ultimately chose to offer a show of faith with the move.

"I thought about that a few times," Gaston said on Monday. "What I was trying to do is certainly let him know that I believe in him and that I believe that's where he belongs. We'll put him there and see what happens."

Last season, the 31-year-old Wells endured one of the worst offensive showings of his career, hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs over 158 games for Toronto. In October, Wells underwent surgery to repair cartilage in his left wrist, which he originally fractured during a diving catch in Cleveland in May 2008.

Gaston is still not sure how much Wells' wrist injury affected his production.

"He never complained about his wrist at all last year," Gaston said. "I don't know, maybe he just didn't want to complain about it. I think you get so far, it started becoming mental, too. He got off to a decent start, but then never really could pick it up."

Gaston said he considered moving Aaron Hill into the fourth spot of the lineup, but the manager decided to keep the second baseman in the second slot to begin this season. Adam Lind was also an option, but Gaston noted again that the designated hitter has said in the past that he is not comfortable in the cleanup role.

This spring, Wells hit .300 with one home run and eight RBIs over 17 Grapefruit League games for the Blue Jays. The center fielder reported no issues with his wrist, giving the club optimism about Wells' chances to return to form at the plate. Gaston knows that much of Toronto's success this year will depend on a strong showing from Wells.

"It's important for him and us, too," Gaston said. "We really could use him. We need him to certainly put up some numbers and help this club win. I'm pretty sure it's on his mind to have a good year. He's worked hard. He's done some extra things with [hitting coach Dwayne Murphy] in the cage. Hopefully he's ready."

In his first at-bat of the season, Wells rewarded Gaston's faith in him with a two-run shot off Texas starter Scott Feldman.