Hideki Matsui has not played outfield since a June 15, 2008 game in Houston — a span of 173 games — but barring injury Wednesday, the Japanese slugger will start in left field Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins.
And Manager Mike Scioscia hinted that Matsui, limited to designated hitter for all 142 of his games for the New York Yankees in 2009, thanks to a pair of arthritic knees, could spend more time in the outfield this season than anyone thought possible.
"We don't have it planned out past [Thursday], but we want to work him into that rotation as much as we can," Scioscia said. "We're not going to jeopardize what he has to do in the batter's box, but his ability to play outfield could be very important to us."
Matsui played parts of four exhibition games in the outfield this spring; the more defense he can play, the more Scioscia can start corner outfielders Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera at DH, giving them a day off their feet while keeping their bats in the lineup.
"He'll be fine out there," Scioscia said of Matsui. "The question is, how will he bounce back the next day? Can he maintain what he needs to do in the batter's box? That's more important to us than playing the outfield."
Does Scioscia expect Matsui to finish Thursday night's game in the outfield?
"Well, as opposed to moving him to shortstop? We'll see," he said. "If he feels good, there's no reason to take him out. If it's a situation where he's had enough or the game [is out of hand], we'll consider anything."
Good to go
Matt Palmer threw two scoreless innings and 24 pitches in relief of struggling starter Joe Saunders on Tuesday night, but that will not preclude the right-hander from starting Friday night's game against the Oakland Athletics.
Palmer, who went 11-2 with a 3.93 earned-run average in 40 games, 13 of them starts, as a 30-year-old rookie last season, skipped his usual between-starts workout this week so he would be available in relief Monday and Tuesday.
"Matt showed last year that he has the ability to start and to come out of the bullpen with length," Scioscia said. "He got a lot of confidence from the way he pitched last year. We're excited to give him the ball."
Saunders walked into the Angels clubhouse Wednesday, stopped and stared at a television in the middle of the room. There on ESPN was John Lackey pitching for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees in Fenway Park.
It was the first time Saunders had seen Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82.5-million deal with Boston this winter after spending his first 7 1/2 big-league seasons in Anaheim, wearing a Red Sox uniform. And it took some getting used to.
"It's kind of weird," Saunders said. "It looks like he's started a new chapter in his life. If he's happy, I'm happy."
Scioscia said utility infielder Maicer Izturis, who did not start the first three games, will be in Thursday's lineup, but he wouldn't say whether Izturis would play third base, shortstop or second. … The Angels paid video tribute before Wednesday's game to broadcaster Rory Markas, who died in January. Markas' brother Troy threw out the ceremonial first pitch to radio broadcaster Terry Smith.