The past month has brought validation to Gary Matthews Jr. With Torii Hunter sidelined, Matthews has started every game in center field during a 17-6 stretch by the Angels, contributing offensively and defensively.
“To be able to contribute to a winning team is something every player wants,” Matthews said. “All any player can ask for is the opportunity. When you’re able to go out and perform, help your team win, it feels good.
“It has reiterated the fact I can play every day and be successful. I’ve gotten some really big hits and been a key contributor to the team. It has reiterated what I’ve said and felt all along.”
Coming into Thursday’s series finale against the White Sox in Chicago, Matthews has hit safely in eight of the past nine games, batting .351 during that stretch with six runs scored and six RBIs.
His .247 batting average isn’t impressive, but he has numbers that clearly demonstrate that he has elevated his game in clutch situations. Matthews is batting .295 with runners on base, .344 with runners in scoring position, .455 with two out and runners in scoring position, and .571 with the bases loaded.
“I’ve never been afraid of big situations,” he said.
Matthews has talked with Chone Figgins about sharpening his focus with the bases clear, when his average slips to .206. But Gary also knows he excelled as a leadoff man in Texas in 2006, before signing his five-year free agent deal with the Angels, and that it’s just a matter of getting back to that mindset.
“I don’t check the numbers,” Matthews said, “but as a player, you know what you’re hitting in certain situations. I’ve been really comfortable hitting with runners in scoring position. I don’t know if it’s a matter of better concentration, but I’ve had some success in those situations that I’d like to carry over to all of my at-bats.
“Certainly it brings out your instincts in those big situations, but it’s also the competitor in any player. There’s something about having a runner on second base or third base. You know a pitcher steps it up a level, and as a hitter you have to step it up, too. In talking with Figgy about your approach with no runners on, it could be I’m trying to do too much in those situations.”
As he continues his rehab from an adductor muscle strain in his right side, Hunter knows his job is in good hands.
“For a guy who didn’t play regularly for three months,” Hunter said, “Gary’s playing at a high level. That’s not easy, what he’s done. He’s in the upper class of defensive center fielders, and he’s showing it. And he’s been coming up with big hits.
“It’s good you’ve got somebody like that who could be a starter anywhere else. We’ve got a lot of quality players on this team.”