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Driver who hit Gomez is related to Angels coach

Times Staff Writers

In a bizarre twist to the Wednesday morning accident that seriously injured Preston Gomez, the Angels special assistant to the general manager, it turns out the driver of the pickup truck that struck Gomez is the first cousin of an outfielder who played briefly for the Angels and is now coaching in their minor league system.

Damon Mashore, who hit .235 with two home runs in 43 games for the Angels in 1998 and is in his first year as hitting coach for Class-A Cedar Rapids, was stunned to learn that his cousin, 31-year-old Jesse Mashore, was involved in the accident, which occurred at a gas station in Blythe.

“Really?” Damon Mashore said Thursday at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Ariz. “I was not aware of this. I had no idea. That’s crazy.”

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Mashore, 38, who attended Clayton Valley High in Concord, said he has not been in touch with Jesse’s family and hadn’t seen Jesse “since high school.”

Gomez, who suffered a major head trauma, remained in the intensive care unit of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on Thursday.

A team spokesman said Gomez, 84, opened his eyes in the morning and was more responsive to stimuli. An MRI exam Thursday showed no brain damage. Gomez received two bags of blood, and doctors took him off a respirator Thursday night.

“No surgery is planned at this point,” said Tim Mead, Angels vice president of communications. “The news continues to be encouraging.”

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Outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., who was helped off the field after hurting himself while running the bases in Monday’s exhibition game against the San Diego Padres, said his sprained right ankle had improved and he expects to take batting practice today.

“It’s feeling significantly better,” said Matthews, who is hitting a team-best .449 this spring.

Matthews missed the entire 2006 exhibition schedule because of a strained rib cage yet that didn’t slow him since he went on to establish career highs in nearly every offensive category including average (.313), doubles (44) and runs (102) that season.

“I’d love to be 100%. But if it’s not, it’s not,” said Matthews, who sat out last October’s playoff series with Boston because of a strained left ankle and irritation in his right knee. “But I’m going to get it as close as I can.”

Manager Mike Scioscia, whose team has two more spring training games with San Diego, said as soon as Matthews gives the OK, he’ll be back in the lineup.

“We’re not going to put him in bubble wrap and wait for the season,” he said. “If he’s ready to play he’s going to play.”

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Scioscia confirmed that right-hander Jered Weaver will be the Angels’ opening-day starter, followed by right-hander Jon Garland, left-hander Joe Saunders and right-hander Ervin Santana. Still to be decided, however, is who will start the Angels’ home opener a week from today, although Scioscia said he’s leaning toward right-hander Dustin Moseley, who will pitch today in a minor league game in Arizona.

Missing from that rotation are John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, who combined to win 37 games last season but will both start the season on the disabled list.

Escobar, who was rehabilitating a sore shoulder, was shut down earlier this week because of a labrum tear that has thrown his season -- and, possibly, his career -- into jeopardy.

“Kelvim is a little frustrated,” Scioscia said. “But he’s not given up on his season and not given up on his career. Hopefully . . . we’ll get some good news when he starts throwing in a couple of weeks.”

Lackey, sidelined two weeks because of a strained right triceps, isn’t expected back until May at the earliest.

“We’re tested in some areas, some key areas,” said Scioscia, who will also start the season without relievers Chris Bootcheck (strained left oblique) and Scot Shields (right forearm tightness). “But you only need one starting pitcher on a given night. That’s all you can put out there. We have five we have a lot of confidence in. We feel we have a chance to win a game every time we take the field with what our starting pitchers can do.”

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Catcher Jeff Mathis had a triple and a double in the Angels’ 6-2 split-squad loss to the Colorado Rockies on Thursday in Tempe Diablo Stadium. The team left Arizona with an 18-9 Cactus League record.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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