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Angels' Gary Matthews Jr.'s knee - and attitude - in good shape

The team signed outfielder Bobby Abreu to a one-year, $5-million deal last week, a move that could greatly cut into Matthews' playing time. But Matthews is taking the high road.

February 17, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — He did not demand a trade or rip the organization. Gary Matthews Jr. reported to camp Monday feeling good about his surgically repaired left knee and in no need of a follow-up procedure to remove any chip on his shoulder.

The Angels outfielder had every right to be upset about the team's signing of veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu to a one-year, $5-million deal Thursday, a move that could greatly cut into Matthews' playing time.

For most of the winter, Matthews, entering the third season of a five-year, $50-million contract, thought he would be joining Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera in the Angels' four-man, outfield / designated hitter rotation.

But with Abreu added to the mix, it appears Matthews, who should return by mid-April, if not sooner, will be relegated to the role of fifth outfielder.

Asked whether he was disappointed by the acquisition of Abreu, Matthews took the high road, saying, "Let's concentrate on positive things right now. Let's talk about my knee and let the other things work themselves out."

As for the knee, Matthews, who had a dismal 2008 season, hitting .242 with eight home runs and 46 runs batted in, appears about a month ahead of schedule in his recovery from surgery to repair his patella tendon.

He has been running and hitting for a month, though he wasn't scheduled to run until the start of camp.

Matthews, who lost his starting job in late June, will join the team for drills today and could begin playing in exhibitions by mid-March.

"I won't be doing explosive takeoffs, but I'm going to take fly balls, throw, hit, and do as much as they let me do," Matthews said. "I haven't had any hiccups, no setbacks. The knee has reacted very well. With the hard ground here, I want to make sure I monitor the things I'm doing to make sure it stays on the right track."

General Manager Tony Reagins has spoken to Matthews about his role, and Manager Mike Scioscia doesn't anticipate the switch-hitter being a distraction.

"Gary's focus and direction right now has to be on getting healthy," Scioscia said. "You can't get too far ahead of yourself."

Pick-up stick

Hunter is a big fan of Matthews -- "He's a tremendous athlete, a piece that we need, and when he gets healthy hopefully we can get him in there," he said -- but he also loved the Abreu move.

Abreu, who will probably bat second, ahead of Guerrero and Hunter, has a .300 career average and .405 on-base percentage. He has at least 100 RBIs in each of the last six seasons and has averaged 20 homers and 26 stolen bases for 12 years.

"He's a clutch hitter, the left-handed bat we needed after losing [Mark] Teixeira," said Hunter, who reported to camp Monday. "I actually think this team is good, is better. Tex had a lot of power, but Bobby is one of the most consistent hitters in the game."

Hunter said it was "amazing" to think the Angels could add an impact bat for such an affordable price two days before camp.

"A week away from spring training and Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, Ken Griffey, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez, the best right-hander to play the game, didn't have jobs," Hunter said. "It's been a weird off-season."

Corner man

Abreu has played 1,733 of his 1,799 games in right field and only 16 games -- none since 1997 -- in left field, but Scioscia said he would play mostly left field for the Angels.

Because Abreu will leave camp March 1 to join Venezuela's World Baseball Classic team, he will have to cram most of his left-field action with the Angels into late March, after the WBC.

"He's a terrific athlete -- we don't anticipate any issues," Scioscia said. "One thing we won't see until he comes back is the interaction with Torii, him feeling acclimated to left field and switching to right. But these guys are great athletes. They'll work it out."

Short hops

Dustin Moseley, who is among four pitchers competing for the fifth rotation spot, sat out practice Monday because of flu-like symptoms. . . . Eddie McKiernan, who pitched last season at Class-A Cedar Rapids, will join the Angels today as a non-roster invitee to camp.

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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