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Aybar is given outfield audition

Times Staff Writer

Erick Aybar started in center field Monday, and not just as an experiment in versatility. With no idea whether center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. will be on the opening-day roster, the Angels’ baseball brain trust is making contingency plans.

“As this thing goes on, not really knowing how close it is to a resolution or what a resolution might be, you definitely have to prepare,” Manager Mike Scioscia said.

If Angels owner Arte Moreno suspends Matthews for his refusal to address allegations he ordered human growth hormone, Aybar could be an intriguing replacement. Baseball America ranks Aybar, a natural shortstop, and Brandon Wood as the Angels’ top prospects.

The Angels consider Aybar ready for the major leagues, but Orlando Cabrera has shortstop covered, and so the team worked out Aybar in center field in September and again this spring.

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Aybar has wowed the Angels this spring, hitting .357 in a team-high 28 at-bats. He had two hits in the Angels’ 11-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday, following a game-winning home run Sunday and a five-hit game Saturday.

Tommy Murphy, who homered Monday, and Reggie Willits also can play center field. Chone Figgins, moved from center field to third base when the Angels signed Matthews, said Monday he has not been asked to take fly balls or otherwise prepare to return to center field.

If needed, the Angels could trade for a center fielder, but Scioscia said that was not an immediate priority.

“We’re not particularly targeting center field externally,” Scioscia said, “but you’re always looking.”

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Mathis responds

In his first 19 at-bats this spring, Jeff Mathis had one hit. In three at-bats Monday, he had three hits, including two home runs.

The Angels handed Mathis the starting catcher’s job last spring, and Mathis handed it back in a month, hitting .103 and playing poor defense. Mike Napoli is the starting catcher now, with Mathis probably headed for triple A unless the Angels trade veteran backup Jose Molina.

“I’m disappointed I didn’t do well when I had the opportunity,” Mathis said. “I’m still around the game. I hope I can maybe make the club. I just want to be part of the team.”

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Old college try

Jered Weaver, who pitched at Long Beach State, is celebrating the 49ers’ first trip to the NCAA basketball tournament since 1995. The 49ers, seeded 12th in the South Regional, play fifth-seeded Tennessee on Friday.

He is tempering his excitement, however. As Angels players completed their tournament brackets Monday, Weaver said he probably would fill out three and pick Long Beach in one, in a quest for victory.

“I came in second last year,” Weaver said. “I’m looking forward to taking it this year.”

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Around the horn

Weaver and Bartolo Colon each threw 45 pitches, all fastballs, in a bullpen session. The Angels hope Weaver (biceps tendinitis) can rejoin the starting rotation by mid-April and Colon (rotator cuff rehabilitation) by late April or early May.... Closer Francisco Rodriguez has faced six batters this spring, striking out five. The other batter grounded out.... Hector Carrasco, slated to fill in for Weaver, pitched four scoreless innings and struck out four.... Wood struck out once every three at-bats in double A last year, but has struck out once in 13 at-bats this spring.... The Angels sent outfielder Terry Evans, the prospect acquired last summer for Jeff Weaver, to minor league camp.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com


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