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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: ANGELS VS. BOSTON : ANGELS FYI

Matthews earns start tonight

October 01, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

The combination of his success against Boston left-hander Jon Lester and a strong September earned Gary Matthews Jr., whose season was derailed by a knee injury, the start in right field for the Angels tonight against the Red Sox.

Matthews, who lost his starting job to Juan Rivera just before the All-Star break, has three hits in six at-bats in his career against Lester, including a pair of home runs in Fenway Park on April 23.

The switch-hitter also hit .285 from the right side this season and batted .318 in September, highlighted by a four-hit game against Detroit left-hander Kenny Rogers on Sept. 4, a two-run home run against Seattle left-hander Ryan Feierabend on Sept. 23 and a three-hit game in Sunday's regular-season finale.

"He's had a couple of good looks at Lester, and he's swinging the bat much better from the right side," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Plus, he has the ability to help us in right field."

For much of the summer, it appeared Matthews, who has a tear in the patellar tendon in his left knee and could need surgery this winter, wouldn't be much help in October.

He hit .235 in the first half, with seven homers and 34 runs batted in, and was replaced by Rivera in early July. He played in only 20 games in July and August, batting .179 (14 for 78).

But injuries to Rivera and right fielder Vladimir Guerrero paved the way for Matthews to play 19 games in September, and a refreshed Matthews took advantage of it.

"I wasn't crazy about not playing as much as I wanted to in the second half, but it may have done some good for me to get off of the knee, rest and strengthen it," Matthews said.

"It was also good for me mentally, because it let me know that when my knee is healthy, I'm going to be fine, I'm still the same player. You struggle for so long and live with the pain for so long, you start to wonder."

One-way player

Though Vladimir Guerrero's irritated right knee was strong enough for him to start in right field in two of the Angels' final four games, Scioscia said he will relegate his cleanup batter to the designated hitter spot against the Red Sox.

Matthews and Rivera will probably split time in right field, and Garret Anderson, who started 59 games at DH this season, will remain in left field.

"What we really need him to do is get comfortable and swing the bat, and if it helps by giving him one less thing to worry about, not having to run and stress that knee, we want to do it," Scioscia said.

"With the depth we have with Juan and Gary, we can let Vlad DH. And with [three off days] in the schedule, it will help Garret rebound and be able to play left field every day."

Not two shabby

Scioscia's other big lineup decision was whom to bat second, the left-handed-hitting Anderson or the right-handed Howie Kendrick, who batted .306 this season.

Kendrick, who missed most of September because of a left hamstring strain, said his leg "feels 100%," but he got only 15 at-bats in six games in the final week of the season, probably not enough for Scioscia to feel totally comfortable hitting him second.

Anderson, meanwhile, is a .291 hitter against lefties in his career, and after Scioscia moved him to the two hole, a prime spot between speedy Chone Figgins and slugger Mark Teixeira, on Aug. 29, Anderson batted .344 with two homers and 12 RBIs.

"He's been really good in that two hole for us," Scioscia said, "and he'll match up with anybody."

Down, not out

The Red Sox have three prominent players -- ace Josh Beckett (oblique), third baseman Mike Lowell (hip) and right fielder J.D. Drew (back) -- slowed by injuries, but the Angels don't see the defending World Series champions as vulnerable.

"Those guys have been around, they've played through pain before, they'll be ready," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Don't let that fool you. Show your left, stick 'em with your right."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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