Angels' Matthews is OK with position switch

Times Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- His left knee is still sore, but his feelings aren't hurt.

One year after signing a five-year, $50-million contract to play center field for the Angels, Gary Matthews Jr. has been pushed to the corner spots by center fielder Torii Hunter, who signed a five-year, $90-million deal with the Angels in November.

But Matthews has no hard feelings toward Hunter, a long-time friend who visited Matthews' Newport Beach home three times this winter, or the Angels, who called Matthews before the signing and told him of his position switch and that he'd be batting second.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy playing center field, because I do," said Matthews, who joined the Angels for Sunday's workout. "But you know, we made our team better. We went out and got one of the best players on the market.

"It happens to be a center fielder, so it changes the dynamics of our outfield a little bit, but the guy has won seven Gold Gloves, so it's not like it's going to make us worse. He's a welcome addition. We need his bat."

Matthews played all three outfield spots for the Texas Rangers in 2005, so shuttling between left field and right field -- and spending some time at designated hitter, with an occasional start in center field -- won't be foreign to him. But it will be a challenge.

"It definitely involves more work and more repetitions in practice and just being aware of what stadium we're in," Matthews said. "It will be harder on the road, in places that are unfamiliar, reading how the ball caroms off the wall and plays in the corners. . . . It's easier playing one position every day, but I'm also glad that I'm able to help this team out with my versatility."

Matthews' top priority this spring is his health. After sitting out the playoffs in October because of knee tendinitis, he spent the winter rehabilitating but is still not 100%.

Matthews plans to pace himself this spring, and Manager Mike Scioscia said the outfielder will be held out of some drills.

"I'm going to be smart about it," Matthews said. "They need me on March 30, not Feb. 17."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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