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Mathis fills in nicely behind plate

Times Staff Writer

When starting catcher Mike Napoli went down Friday because of a strained hamstring, only a week after the Angels had traded veteran catcher Jose Molina to the New York Yankees, the conventional wisdom was there could be big problems brewing.

Enter 24-year-old backup Jeff Mathis, in his second major league season who was batting .095 and will be Napoli’s replacement for the next two weeks while Napoli is on the disabled list.

Mathis responded Saturday with three hits and showed that his high school football days in Florida didn’t go to waste by jarring the ball loose from Detroit Tigers catcher Mike Rabelo while scoring in the eighth inning during the Angels’ 10-3 victory at Angel Stadium.

“Jeff knows how important he is to our club,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He had a great game, and hopefully, this is a game to build upon.”

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The Angels have placed trust in not only Mathis, but rookie Ryan Budde, 27, who was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake to take Napoli’s spot on the roster.

“As of right now, we’re OK,” Scioscia said. “We’re confident what Jeff and Ryan can bring behind the plate.”

Budde has never played in the major leagues since being drafted by the Angels out of Oklahoma State in 2001. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft but returned to the Angels on April 23.

Mathis made his seventh start Saturday, with the Tigers stealing three bases.

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“Any time they run on you and get in scoring position, it’s frustrating,” he said.

The knowledge that he’ll be starting for the injured Napoli might have relieved some stress for Mathis.

“It’s nice to know there’s a real good chance you’re going to be in there day in and day out,” he said.

While inexperience at the catcher position could be a concern for the Angels, the good news is that Scioscia was a major league catcher for 15 years and has plenty to offer his young pupils.

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“There’s so much knowledge in him,” Mathis said.

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Defense is what Gary Matthews Jr. is supposed to deliver in center field as part of his five-year, $50-million contract, and Angels fans have certainly shown their appreciation, giving him a standing ovation Friday night after a leaping catch of a drive by Detroit’s Craig Monroe.

Matthews said the catch doesn’t rank among his top five, but expectations keep rising.

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“He’s pretty much Superman out there,” pitcher Jered Weaver said. “He’s fun to watch.”

Added Scioscia: “He’s as good as there is running down balls in center field. When you see him every day, you get an appreciation for it.”

Matthews said contributing on defense is important to him.

“You’re not always going to get hits and home runs,” he said. “The one thing I can do is be consistent in my approach and consistent with my defense.”

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Even though Scioscia says he’s concerned with the Angels’ pitching depth, he’s in no hurry to bring back Ervin Santana, who gave up six runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings in a minor league start for Salt Lake on Friday.

“It will be driven by his performance more than our need,” he said when discussing a possible recall of Santana, who was 5-11 with a 6.22 earned-run average until being sent to the minors July 19.

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Scot Shields picked up his 34th relief victory, tying him for most in club history with Dave LaRoche.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com


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