Matsui set for outfield return on Thursday
Angels slugger scheduled to start in left against Twins
ANAHEIM -- Hideki Matsui went through round after round of interviews at his locker alongside translator Roger Kahlon on Wednesday afternoon at Angel Stadium.
Pausing for refreshment at the water cooler on his way to do his pregame stretching, Matsui was asked if all that talking had worn him out.
"No," he said, grinning. "I'm just a DH."
That apparently will change on Thursday night against the Twins when the Angels' cleanup man makes his first appearance in the outfield since June 15, 2008. He was the Yankees' left fielder that day against the Astros in Interleague Play.
"He'll play the outfield tomorrow," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, adding a qualifier about Matsui -- whose history of knee issues is well documented -- making it through his DH assignment against the Twins in the third game of the series.
From the day he arrived for Spring Training in Arizona, having signed a one-year, $6 million free-agent deal, Matsui made it clear that he preferred playing the total game. He is convinced defensive duties help keep him mentally sharp in the batter's box.
"I feel like it has a positive effect, staying on the field all the time and playing defense," said Matsui, who played the outfield four times this spring. "I believe strongly that when you're on the field all the time, you're always in the game -- as opposed to DHing.
"I'm used to DHing. But from a rhythm standpoint, mentally you're staying in the game and physically you're staying loose when you're playing in the field."
Vladimir Guerrero, Matsui's predecessor, shared that belief but was limited by injuries to only two games in the Angels' outfield last season. That was two more than Matsui played for the Yankees, spending his final year in the Bronx strictly as a DH -- right on through his World Series MVP performance against the Phillies.
"We want to let him work his way into the outfield rotation as much as we can," Scioscia said. "The guideline is what he can do in the batter's box. We're not going to do anything to jeopardize that.
"We think he's totally healthy. No issue there. There's a stamina issue. He's going to be effective [defensively], fine. The importance is what he does in the batter's box."
In his seven seasons in New York, Matsui batted .292 with a .482 slugging percentage, producing 140 homers and 597 RBIs.
He elevated his game consistently in postseason play, batting .312 with a .541 slugging percentage. He delivered 10 homers and 39 RBIs in 56 games.
Matsui's debut with the Angels was a blockbuster, featuring a go-ahead single and a booming home run in four at-bats. He was 0-for-3 with a walk in the second game.
Scioscia ideally would like to get Matsui a start or two a week in left in order to free up some DH days for Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli.
The manager understands Matsui's desire to be a total player, not strictly an offensive instrument in the band.
"He's a ballplayer," Scioscia said. "As a baseball player, when you do things, you want to continue to do those things. You want to contribute as much as possible."
The Yankees evidently felt the risk was too high in playing Matsui in left last season. Scioscia acknowledges risk but is willing to take it, apparently.
"Different teams have different needs," Scioscia said. "Maybe last year he wasn't able [physically] to take that experiment."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.