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ANGELS FYI

Jeff Mathis works to improve hitting

Catcher is looking to put behind struggles at the plate by building on an adjustment to his stance.

April 06, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

Jeff Mathis has modest offensive goals for this season. The Angels catcher is not looking to hit .300 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in.

"After the last couple of years," Mathis said, "I just don't want people to think of me as an out."

While Mathis has developed into an above-average defender, an extremely athletic receiver with a good arm and game-calling skills, he has struggled offensively, batting .195 with a .272 on-base percentage, 15 homers, 71 RBIs, 154 strikeouts and 52 walks in 181 big league games.

That could change this season. Mathis, building on an adjustment to his stance that he incorporated at the end of 2008, hit .340 with four homers, six doubles and 13 RBIs in 21 spring games. He had nine walks and eight strikeouts in 53 at-bats.

"He's like night and day from last year," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he feels comfortable. . . . You're seeing a guy with confidence now, and that's step one for him to be the offensive player he can be."

Mathis' stance is virtually the same, but he has shifted his weight back a bit, which is helping him track the ball an extra three or four feet in the hitting zone.

"I'm not looking to put up huge numbers," said Mathis, who will share catching duties with Mike Napoli. "I just want to produce and help the team out."

Mathis arrived at spring training four days early so he could work exclusively with batting instructor Mickey Hatcher and focus on offense.

"We worked with his mechanics, got him to do some things differently, got him to take batting practice differently," Hatcher said. "He changed his load, and he's a lot more quiet in his stance. His approach is more to right field. He's using the whole park."

Mathis grew more comfortable throughout the spring, and Hatcher thinks the Angels will reap benefits this season.

"The biggest thing with young hitters is the look on their face," Hatcher said. "Jeff has a different look on his face this spring. You can see that confidence. It's fun to watch. I think this will be a year where he shows what he can do."

The honor is theirs

Pitcher Chuck Finley and outfielder Brian Downing will be inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame in a ceremony before Thursday night's game against the Oakland Athletics.

The tandem will join current members Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Jim Fregosi and Jimmie Reese.

Finley, an Angel from 1986 to 1999, was a four-time All-Star and the franchise's all-time leader in wins (165), innings pitched (2,675) and starts (379). Downing (1978-90) was an All-Star in 1979, when he hit .326 with 12 homers, 75 RBIs and 81 runs.

Replacement player

First baseman Kendry Morales ranked second in the American League in batting this spring with a .400 average and led the AL in hits (34) and doubles (11).

The only player in the league with a higher average? Mark Teixeira, the man Morales is replacing in Anaheim. Teixeira batted .433 for the New York Yankees this spring.

Short hops

Oakland's opening-day rotation, which includes two rookies (Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson), averages just over 23 years old and features no starter over 26. The last team with five starters under the age of 26 was the 1978 Milwaukee Brewers. . . . Included in tonight's pregame festivities, at approximately 5:50 p.m., will be a flyover of two F-18 fighter jets from the Lemoore Naval Air Station base near Fresno.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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