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Matthews faces another drug report

Times Staff Writers

Gary Matthews Jr. allegedly was sent a shipment of human growth hormone three years ago, according to the second report in two days linking the Angels’ new center fielder to performance-enhancing substances.

Matthews spoke with reporters for about two minutes at the Angels’ training camp Wednesday morning, saying he did not know how his name surfaced in a nationwide government investigation into illegal drug distribution.

“At the appropriate time, I will address the matter,” Matthews said.

On Tuesday, following raids at several Florida pharmacies, the Albany Times-Union reported Matthews was a customer of an Alabama pharmacy whose owners have been indicted by a grand jury in that state. On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated reported that the Alabama pharmacy sent human growth hormone to Matthews in 2004, according to law enforcement documents reviewed by the magazine.

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Baseball bans human growth hormone now but didn’t then, although the substance is illegal to possess without legitimate medical supervision. Even if prosecutors can prove Matthews received the shipment and can persuade him to testify against distributors in exchange for immunity, major league officials might not be able to suspend him.

Matthews took part in base-running drills and batting practice but had left training camp by the time Wednesday’s report surfaced, leaving club officials scrambling to respond for the second time in 24 hours.

“It’s certainly a difficult situation when you have to piecemeal information, when you’re hearing it for the first time the public at large is hearing it,” Angels spokesman Tim Mead said.

Matthews said his agent, Scott Leventhal, would work with the players’ union to obtain more information. Leventhal did not return repeated calls for the second consecutive day.

Matthews said he has not retained an attorney, and union spokesman Greg Bouris would not say whether the union would handle legal representation.

“I’m not really in a position to answer any questions on [Tuesday’s] story,” Matthews said. “I do want to say that I do expect it to resolve itself here in the near future, pretty soon.”

Asked whether he had ever used performance-enhancing substances, accidentally or otherwise, Matthews said, “I haven’t read the story myself and I don’t have all the information. Until I get more information, that’s my position.”

Matthews then met behind closed doors with owner Arte Moreno, General Manager Bill Stoneman, Manager Mike Scioscia and Mead. Matthews apologized for any distraction and said he would try to resolve the situation as soon as possible, Moreno said.

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“As I told him, in any of these cases, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Moreno told reporters. “That’s not the American way, but sometimes that’s how you write it and how the fans respond to it. That’s why I think it’s imperative to get as much information as we can and be able to communicate with you guys as soon as we can.”

Moreno, who signed Matthews to a five-year, $50-million contract in November, said his immediate priority was to support his center fielder. The owner said Matthews was not asked about the allegations when he met with Angels officials.

“I don’t think it’s our position to do that right now,” Moreno said. “I think that bridge is going to come eventually, but I think as a whole it’s more important for him to come to us and explain to us what’s going on.”

Asked whether the allegations could add a layer of stress and pressure for Matthews on top of what he might already be feeling given his lucrative contract, Scioscia said, “It certainly could. Anyone who signs a big contract, the one thing you want to put in his mind is, you’re the same player you were before, you don’t have to go above and beyond, just bring your game and play it.

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“This is obviously taking some things a step further. Gary will have to deal with it, as will we as an organization, but you have to keep moving forward.”

Scioscia said Matthews would lead off and play center field in today’s exhibition opener against Kansas City, and several Angels said they didn’t expect the story to cause much of a stir in the clubhouse.

“We joked around all day, it was business as usual,” said Angels reliever Justin Speier, who has known Matthews since childhood. “I’ve known Gary a long time, and he’s a man of character. Knowing him, it’s not going to affect him or us.”

Two Sports Illustrated reporters accompanied agents on Tuesday’s raids. On Wednesday, the magazine reported that documents showed Matthews had been prescribed Genotropin, a synthetic human growth hormone typically prescribed to unusually short children.

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The magazine reported that the prescription was written in Florida, filled in Alabama and delivered to the Texas home of an unnamed former minor league teammate of Matthews. The documents cannot establish whether Matthews used -- or even received -- the shipment, according to the report.

Although the New York prosecutor leading the investigation said Tuesday he is focused on doctors and pharmacists rather than users, a former federal prosecutor indicated Wednesday that Matthews still could become involved in a criminal case.

“If the government wants to pursue the distributors, they’re going to need to put on a live witness in a criminal trial who will say, ‘That was my source of steroids. That’s where I bought them from,’ ” said Brian Hennigan of the Los Angeles law firm Irell and Manella.

Hennigan spoke generally, emphasizing he had no information about the investigation or Matthews’ possible role in it. Because it is against the law to possess steroids or human growth hormone without legitimate medical supervision, Hennigan said recipients would probably obtain immunity from prosecution before testifying against a distributor.

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“They would be out of the woods criminally,” Hennigan said. “The P.R. fallout would still be there.”

Sources said the union would almost certainly file a grievance should Matthews be suspended in the absence of a positive drug test or a criminal conviction.

Baseball now forbids the use of human growth hormone but does not test for the substance. Commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Donald Fehr each have said there is no reliable test available, and owners have funded laboratory studies to develop a urine test.

Gary Wadler, a New York physician and advisor to the World Anti-Doping Agency, said no urine test would be available for “at least five years, if ever” but said a blood test has been developed and would be widely available by the end of this year. If MLB chose to do so, he said, it could take blood samples now and freeze them for testing later this year.

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“The assertion that there is no test is wrong,” Wadler said.

In that sense, he said, baseball’s claims of tough drug testing ring hollow.

“Without detection -- or the potential of detection -- there is no deterrence,” he said. “Without deterrence, there’s no reason for not using human growth hormone. The only way to get caught now is these kinds of stings, which is not the way to do it.”

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Ervin Santana will start today’s exhibition opener, Joe Saunders will pitch Friday against the Chicago Cubs, and John Lackey will start Saturday against Colorado.... Scioscia has been so encouraged by Bartolo Colon’s progress in his rehabilitation from a rotator-cuff tear that he believes the right-hander will “be on a mound possibly by the end of spring training.” Colon will probably remain in extended spring training in Arizona when the season starts.... Left fielder Garret Anderson needs a few extra days of conditioning and won’t appear in an exhibition game until Sunday or Monday.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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