Matthews, Figgins igniting Angels
Pair determined to show ability, durability
PHOENIX -- It was a serious and determined Gary Matthews Jr. who arrived early in Angels camp this spring.
Having undergone left knee surgery on Oct. 28, he'd worked diligently to regain leg strength and expressed confidence that he'd be ready to play sooner than the club imagined.
In right field on Wednesday against the White Sox after playing center on Tuesday against the Padres, Matthews unloaded against Gavin Floyd in the fourth, an inning after Chone Figgins had launched a two-run bomb.
Matthews' solo blast, his first homer of the spring, carried in the neighborhood of 440 feet, according to teammate Torii Hunter. It traveled far beyond the 380 marker in right-center.
"Crushed it," Hunter said, the Angels having moved to 15-4 with a 4-1 win. "Gary just crushed it."
Matthews grinned and admitted that "it felt good coming off the bat."
On Tuesday, after Matthews drove in three runs against the Padres with a double and single, manager Mike Scioscia expressed amazement over how well the outfielder was running -- "as well as ever," the skipper said. Clearly, there's nothing wrong with Matthews' power either.
"That ball was squared up," Scioscia said of the home run against Floyd, a 17-game winner last season. "Gary needs to see pitches. His swing looks great. He turned on some fastballs today. That was good to see."
The early projection was for Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu to share left field and the designated-hitter role. But Matthews, if he keeps this up, could force some reevaluations by Scioscia and his staff.
It might be off the radar somewhat, obscured by the fireworks of fellow third basemen Brandon Wood and Matt Brown in their efforts to make the club, but Figgins' brilliant spring continues.
The most athletic third baseman west of Alex Rodriguez, Figgins crushed his first homer of the spring before Matthews unloaded, gving starter Dustin Moseley a 2-0 cushion in the third inning.
"I'm a power-hitting third baseman now," Figgins said, beaming. "Everybody's talking about getting a power-hitting third baseman, so I figured I should show it."
Figgins, of course, knows his primary functions are to reach base and find his way home, even if he has to resort to stealing. The big flies generally are for the musclemen behind him.
DH Mike Napoli, who'd walked, stolen second -- the big man can motor -- and moved to third on a wild pitch, trotted home ahead of Figgins.
"That's a mistake," Scioscia said of Figgins' big fly, managing a wry smile, "but a welcome mistake."Continuing to swing hot bats, Brown (.464), Kendry Morales (.400), Ryan Budde (.385) and Sean Rodriguez (.300) each delivered a hit, Brown's double, his fourth of the spring, preceding Rodriguez's RBI single in the ninth.
Figgins is batting .364 in 11 games. He has stolen five bases in six attempts and has been superb with the glove. His uncommonly quick feet and reactions enabled him to take a hit away from White Sox catcher Donny Lucy with a diving stab to his left on a ball headed to left field in the second inning.
Reporting to camp, Figgins said his goal was to play all 162 games after freak injuries to his hand and hamstring cost him chunks of the past two seasons. He's trying to recapture his reputation as a durable, consistent force in the leadoff spot, and he's off and running.
Turning on the power every now and then certainly can't hurt.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.