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Figgins’ move feels right

Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE -- It was a curious move, switching Chone Figgins from third base, where the former nomad has developed a comfort zone that has contributed to a solid defensive season and a career year on offense, to right field. Why mess with a good thing?

But if Figgins, the top hitter in baseball since May 31 with a .409 average in 298 at-bats, felt uneasy, he wasn’t letting on.

“As long as I’m hitting leadoff, I’m OK with it,” said Figgins, who made 92 of his 98 starts this season at third and the other six at second. “There’s no reason for me to take offense.”

Instead, Figgins went on the offensive, sparking Wednesday’s five-run first inning with a single and stolen base, then copying that sequence to the second inning, leading off with a single, stealing second and scoring on Vladimir Guerrero’s single for a 6-0 lead.

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Manager Mike Scioscia told Figgins before Tuesday’s game that with Guerrero (inflamed right triceps) relegated to designated hitter and utility infielder Maicer Izturis swinging a productive bat, Figgins would probably play some outfield.

When Gary Matthews Jr. suffered a sprained right ankle Tuesday, an injury that will sideline the center fielder for more than a week, Figgins’ move to the outfield was solidified.

“At times, we’ve tapped into Figgy’s versatility,” Scioscia said. “We talked to him about it, and his comfort level in right field is high enough where we feel he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing offensively.”

Figgins, who has started at six positions in the big leagues, also walked and scored in the fifth, walked to force in a run in the eighth and is batting .583 (21 for 36) against Baltimore this season.

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Matthews’ injury seemed an opportune time to give Juan Rivera, who missed the first five months of 2007 because of a broken leg, an extended look in the outfield to see if he could regain the stroke that fueled an outstanding 2006 (.310, 23 homers, 85 runs batted in) and perhaps earn a spot on the playoff roster.

While Scioscia says Rivera remains an option, his lineup Wednesday spoke volumes. Figgins was in right field, Izturis was at third, and Rivera, who has started four games since his Sept. 2 return, was on the bench.

“I think they think I’m not 100%,” said Rivera, admitting to having a sore left knee. ". . .They have their team, guys who have been playing every day. I have to wait until next year to play.”

Scioscia took exception to Rivera’s perception.

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“We have not written him off this year,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to give him a chance to contribute . . . and see where it leads, but right now, there are some bats that are doing the job and getting the opportunity to play.”

Tommy Murphy was in “shut-down mode” Tuesday, enjoying the first day of his off-season in Florida, when the Angels, in need of outfield depth, called him to Baltimore.

“I was home for 24 hours and got to see the wife and kids,” said Murphy, who hit .270 with 32 RBIs at triple-A Salt Lake. “It was a good call though.”

And much better than the call Murphy made to his wife in May to inform her he had viral meningitis, which knocked Murphy out for a month.

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“I woke up one morning and couldn’t get out of bed,” Murphy said. “I thought I had a migraine. I went to the hospital, and they did a spinal tap. I was in really bad shape for a week and didn’t play for another month.”

Scioscia remains so focused on the day-to-day grind that he claimed to have no idea baseball has slightly altered the American League playoff format, awarding the team with the best record its choice of opening the division series Oct. 3 or 4.

Teams beginning Oct. 3 would play potential consecutive games once in eight days. Teams starting Oct. 4 could play five games in seven days. The top team will have one hour after its final regular-season game to decide.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Scioscia said. “I’m not going there.”

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Matthews said the swelling on his ankle “went down a lot” Tuesday night and he was “really encouraged” by his progress.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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