Vroom, vroom goes Vernon

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

Vernon Wells has a reputation of making the difficult look very easy. He is described by those who know him best as laid back, the kind of player who makes even a tough over-the-shoulder catch look effortless.

That reputation may take a bit of a hit this year.

Wells will be the central figure in the Blue Jays' revamped offence, a change necessitated by the departure of slugger Carlos Delgado.

In Wells' words: "We can't sit around and wait for the three-run homer from the guy in the four-hole anymore."

In short, fans will see Wells stealing bases a lot more often.

Wells arrived yesterday in Dunedin, Fla., for his five-plus weeks of spring training looking a little trimmer and seemingly anxious to put into practice the 10 weeks of speed training he endured during his off-season.

"(Stealing bases) is something that I wanted to do, but it was tough to do hitting in front of Carlos," Wells said of utilizing his speed on the bases.

"You leave a big old hole open over there if you do, (allowing opponents to walk Delgado intentionally). It's something I have been working on this off-season -- making sure my starts and my speed are where they need to be to steal some bases."

Wells won't be the only Blue Jay keeping catchers and pitchers on their toes. This is going to be a team approach with Alex Rios, Eric Hinske and Orlando Hudson all getting the green light on the base paths more so than they have in the past.

"I think I can be a 30-30 guy," Wells said, referring to a 30-homer, 30-steal season, a feat managed just twice in Blue Jays history -- by Shawn Green in 1998 and Jose Cruz in 2001.

"That's a goal I set for myself and I think it's achievable. It's something I started thinking about once Carlos was officially gone. I knew I was going to have the chance to run some more so we'll see what happens."

Wells hit 33 homers in 2003 and had 22 in an injury-shortened 2004 season, so he's quite capable of the power but has yet to prove he can steal anywhere close to 30 bags.

He hasn't had more than nine stolen bases in a major-league season, a mark he reached in 2002 and 2004. His minor-league high was 23 with triple-A Syracuse in 2000.

Wells is confident his off-season training, which included pulling sleds, running with weights and working on his running form and technique with a speed coach, will make a 30-30 year a possibility.

As for the other part of his offence, Wells said the key is finding some consistency.

"Offensively I was just up and down last year," he said. "I wasn't consistent like I was the year before. I think that is the key. I looked back over the past couple of years and my Aprils have been terrible and I start picking it up in May. If I can be halfway decent in April there's no telling what I could do over a full regular season."

What is clear is that changes are on the horizon.

"It's going to be a different game from here on out," Wells said.

It's also going to be a different Vernon Wells.


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