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Gary Matthews Jr. continues to push for a job

Outfielder hits his second homer of the spring and has eight RBIs in eight games as Angels improve to 19-4.

March 25, 2009|mike digiovanna

TEMPE, ARIZ. — Gary Matthews Jr. looks pretty spry, especially when he's hitting prodigious home runs such as the two-run blast that highlighted the Angels' 10-5 exhibition victory over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. But the switch-hitting outfielder isn't getting any younger.

"I'm 34, and you don't play forever," said Matthews, who appears fully recovered from off-season surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee. "It's not like I'm 24 and have time to sit around and waste years. That's not what I'm going to do."

Matthews, in the third year of a five-year, $50-million contract, said he made that point clear in the "candid conversations" with Manager Mike Scioscia and General Manager Tony Reagins this spring.

Those talks, according to Matthews, have focused on playing time, not on whether he will waive his no-trade clause and request a deal to a team that can guarantee him full-time work.

But the content of those conversations could change if Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera remain ahead of Matthews on the outfield-designated hitter depth chart and Matthews plays sparingly in April.

"I'm ready to get back to playing every day," said Matthews, who hit .242 with eight home runs and 46 runs batted in during an injury-plagued 2008 in which he lost his starting job to Rivera in late June. "Surgery allowed me to get my strength back."

There is one solution to Matthews' problem. He could strong-arm his way into the lineup by hitting the way he has this spring -- he's batting .412 with two homers and eight RBIs in eight games.

"Wow, Junior looks great, doesn't he?" said pitcher Joe Saunders, who gave up four runs and six hits in six innings Tuesday. "That homer he hit today was a bomb."

Matthews, who also doubled and scored on Maicer Izturis' three-run homer, could be an attractive option for teams such as the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, who are looking for center fielders, though his hefty contract will be difficult to trade.

Asked if he felt as if he were auditioning for other teams, Matthews said, "Aren't we all always auditioning for a job? I'm no different than anyone else."

The Angels love having depth and injury insurance at every position, and after investing two years into Matthews, they would hate to trade him and watch him excel for another team.

"I'm sure there will come a point in time when decisions have to be made, but we will address them at the proper time," Scioscia said. "We have a lot of bats here. We don't have to make those decisions today."

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WBC shortcomings

There are several theories as to why the U.S. has failed to win the first two World Baseball Classics, but Scot Shields isn't buying into the one that states teams such as Japan and South Korea have fared better because the WBC is more important in their countries.

"I can only speak for myself and what I saw, but it was important to us," Shields said Tuesday upon returning from the WBC. "This time around, we wanted to prove we were better than last time. I think we played pretty well. Just not good enough."

Shields appeared in five WBC games for the U.S., which lost to Japan in a semifinal. He gave up two earned runs and seven hits, struck out two and walked one in 4 1/3 innings.

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Man with a plan

The Angels have mapped out a plan for Kelvim Escobar that would extend the right-hander to the 100-pitch range by the third week of April and, barring setback, return him to the rotation by the end of April.

Escobar emerged from Monday's minor league start, his first game action since undergoing shoulder surgery last July, with normal stiffness but no problems.

Escobar, whose fastball hit 96 mph during the 34-pitch outing, will start another minor league game Saturday with a target of 45 pitches. He would pitch again April 2, either in a minor league game in Arizona or an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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