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Angels' Erick Aybar appears to be a fast healer

Shortstop says his knee feels much better after he was taken out by a hard slide Monday. Angels hope he doesn't have to go on the disabled list.

June 18, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

Reporting from Chicago -- Legs are not supposed to bend inward at the knee the way Erick Aybar's did Monday night, when Milwaukee's Casey McGehee slid hard into the Angels shortstop while breaking up a double play.

The initial diagnosis was a hyperextension of Aybar's left knee. An MRI test revealed what the Angels called "meniscal damage." Though there was no mention of a tear, it appeared the speedy leadoff batter would be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks.

But there on the Wrigley Field grass before Friday's game against the Cubs was Aybar, doing agility drills. Later in the clubhouse, he rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes. Then he went out to play catch.

While Aybar could not avoid the sliding McGehee on Monday, he and the Angels may have dodged a bullet.

"Until he runs the bases 100%, it's tough to know where he is, but he's feeling a lot better," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're feeling very optimistic he won't go on the DL, but he still has some hurdles to clear."

Aybar said the injury was "scary" at first, and he was "really sore" the day after, but he has felt better every day since Wednesday.

Aybar is the team's fastest player, and knee cartilage damage could hinder his effectiveness, but he has no plans to change his style.

"I'm going to play my game, keep moving," Aybar said. "The doctor said the ligament is good. I'll still use my speed. I don't want to play without it."

Aybar saw McGehee's slide once on ESPN and said it was clean. Some thought the slide, which was a little late and hard and in the seventh inning of a lopsided game, was excessive.

"I had no problem with it," Aybar said. "He was trying to take me out and slid hard. I was trying to catch the ball."

Catching on

Jeff Mathis said he didn't get much sleep Thursday night. "It's like the first game of the year," the Angels catcher said before Friday's game.

Mathis hadn't played since he broke a bone in his right wrist while blocking a ball in the dirt April 19, but he was back in the lineup Friday and had a hand in the Angels' 7-6 victory.

Mathis showed a little rust when he failed to glove a Scott Kazmir fastball in the second and was charged with a passed ball, but that was his only transgression.

Mathis looked sharp behind the plate and even dropped a two-out, run-scoring bunt single on an 0-and-1 pitch from Carlos Silva in the fourth inning.

"I look at where [the third baseman] is positioned every time," Mathis said. "He wasn't as far back on the first pitch, but after my first swing, he stepped back a bit."

First things first

Mathis' return pushed catcher Mike Napoli into more of an everyday first-base role in place of the injured Kendry Morales.

"Nap is going to get a lot of looks at first," Scioscia said. "We'll mix in some other guys, but this gives us a chance to keep his bat in the lineup."

While sharing catching duties with Mathis, Napoli hit 20 homers in 227 at-bats in 2008 and 20 homers in 382 at-bats in 2009. He has 11 homers in 195 at-bats this season. Scioscia thinks he could hit 30 homers or more with 600 plate appearances.

"He's strong, and I hope with experience his streaks aren't as extreme," Scioscia said. "But there's no doubt he has the potential to hit 30 home runs."

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