Matthews will stay on top of things

Times Staff Writer

Mike Scioscia stuck with struggling outfielder Steve Finley for four months in 2005 and feeble designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand for three months in 2007 before finally pulling them from the lineup.

So it should come as no surprise that the Angels manager continues to start Gary Matthews Jr. at the top of the order despite the struggling outfielder's .223 average and .320 on-base percentage.

But with leadoff batter Chone Figgins on the disabled list, wouldn't the Angels be better off, at least temporarily, with Reggie Willits, a spark plug of an outfielder who hit .293 with a .391 on-base percentage in 136 games last season, in the leadoff spot?

Not at the expense of benching a player in his outfield/DH rotation -- Matthews, Garret Anderson, Torii Hunter or Vladimir Guerrero -- Scioscia said.

"We're still trying to get continuity," Scioscia said. "Gary hasn't hit his stride yet, but as far as the bats we need to get going, he's the best option to lead off now without taking somebody out of the lineup. We're not at that point right now."

Since Figgins suffered a hamstring strain on May 3, Willits has started only once, leading off at DH on Sunday at Tampa Bay.

Scioscia said Willits would probably lead off when he plays, but with Figgins out for at least another week, Scioscia has no plans to give Willits a run of games to see if he can set the table better than Matthews, who had a two walks and a single in four plate appearances Tuesday night.

"When Gary gets it going, he usually keeps it going for a long time, and we want to let that play out," Scioscia said. "Right now, we don't want to take some guys who are real important to us out of the lineup to fill what we feel is a short-term need at leadoff."


Despite pitching effectively for the most part, reliever Darren O'Day, who went 0-1 with a 3.43 earned-run average in 16 games, was sent to triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday to clear room for infielder Maicer Izturis, who was activated from the DL.

The Angels demoted infielder Kendry Morales to make room for John Lackey, who will make his 2008 debut tonight.

"I was a little surprised, but I understand why it happened," said O'Day, who made the jump from double A to the big leagues. "Lackey is coming back, and someone had to go down. [Scioscia] said I did a good job, but we agreed I'm not a finished product."

O'Day, a sidearm-throwing right-hander, said he needs to improve his command and pitch-efficiency.

"Sometimes I'd do great, retire the side on 10 pitches, and other times I'd need 25 pitches in an inning," O'Day said. "There's a plethora of things I can work on."


Reliever Justin Speier, who gave up two game-winning home runs over the weekend at Tampa Bay, discovered at least one problem during his lengthy bullpen workout with pitching coach Mike Butcher on Monday: he lacks direction. Not in life, but in his delivery.

"I'm a low three-quarters guy, and sometimes [my motion] can go side to side," Speier said. "I worked on staying in my lane, making sure my direction [toward the plate] is good."


Figgins has advanced to "more aggressive exercises" in his rehabilitation from a hamstring strain but doesn't know when he'll test his right leg by running at full speed. He remains "hopeful" he'll be ready when he is eligible to be activated next Tuesday.


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