Top of lineup staying same

Times Staff Writer

The batting average (.229) and on-base percentage (.320) seem too low, and the strikeouts (27), runs batted in (team-high 20) and home runs (four) seem a little high for a two-hole hitter.

But Manager Mike Scioscia said Gary Matthews Jr. will remain in that spot, and that table-setting outfielder Reggie Willits' recall from triple-A Salt Lake and insertion into the second spot Friday night against Baltimore is not a permanent lineup switch.

"We still like the structure of our offense," Scioscia said. "Though some guys haven't hit their stride, this framework can work, and in a big way. If it stalls, we'll adjust, but Gary has the potential to score 100 runs and knock in 100 runs from that spot. We're going to stay with it."

Matthews, who started all of the Angels' first 30 games, batting second in 29 of them, is in a two-for-24 skid (.083).

Scioscia thinks fatigue might be a factor for him as well as Vladimir Guerrero, who entered Friday with a .266 average, three homers and 14 RBIs.

Adding Willits "gives us a chance to get some guys off their feet," Scioscia said. "Some guys have maybe lost a little bit in their tanks."

Matthews thrived in the leadoff spot for Texas in 2006 (.313, 19 homers, 79 RBIs, 102 runs) and hit .252 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs while bouncing around the Angels' lineup last season.

His approach remains the same no matter where he is batting, so Matthews isn't about to become a clone of Orlando Cabrera, an excellent fit in the second spot last season.

Entering Friday, Angels two-hole hitters -- essentially, Matthews -- ranked last in the American League in strikeouts, 12th in batting, 10th in on-base percentage and first in homers and RBIs.

"If you take away my average and strikeouts, it's probably been the best run-production start I've had," Matthews said. "I've hit some home runs, had some RBIs, and I've been able to bear down in some key situations. But lately, I've had a run of bad luck."


Among the many words of encouragement Nick Adenhart received after Thursday's rocky major league debut, when the 21-year-old right-hander gave up five runs, three hits and five walks in two-plus innings of a 15-8 loss to Oakland, none hit home more than reliever Chris Bootcheck's.

"I told him, as bad as your first outing was, mine was worse," Bootcheck said.

No kidding. On Sept. 9, 2003, Bootcheck was rocked for eight runs and seven hits, three of them home runs, in 3 1/3 innings of an 8-1 loss at Oakland. The winning pitcher that night was Justin Duchscherer, who beat Adenhart on Thursday.

"A lot of great pitchers who have pitched in the big leagues for a long time had the same kind of start," Bootcheck said. "I told him to keep his head up. His talent is going to see him through this."


As much as Willits hated to get demoted to Salt Lake on April 16, it was for the best. The switch-hitter had one at-bat in the Angels' first 15 games but played 10 games at triple A, batting .378.

"It allowed me to get my timing back, to get my legs back under me," said Willits, who missed a week because of tendinitis in his left wrist. "It was like spring training."

Willits left the hottest team in baseball. Salt Lake improved to 24-2 with Thursday's 10-0 win over Memphis.

"We never lose down there," Willits said.

Did he almost hate to leave the Bees?

"No," Willits said. "I can't say that."


Second baseman Howie Kendrick (strained left hamstring) backed off his workout regimen a bit and will remain in Anaheim this weekend. The Angels hope he can begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment early next week. . . . Pitcher Kelvim Escobar (shoulder tear) extended his throwing program to 75 feet Friday and has experienced no setbacks.


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