ANAHEIM -- Gary Matthews Jr. was feeling better on Thursday than at any time since Sept. 11, when he sprained his right ankle so severely sliding into second base in Baltimore that he feared it was broken and his season was ending prematurely.

"I got after it pretty good today after extra batting practice and did all the things I do -- short of climbing up on the wall," Matthews said Thursday through a grin as the Angels prepared for the first of four games with the Mariners, needing two wins to clinch the American League West title.

Having missed nine games with the ankle sprain, Matthews feels his magic number for playing is about the same as the one the Angels took into the series -- three.

"It feels good -- I'm ready to go," he said, adding that he thinks he'll be ready to return to the lineup sometime this weekend. "I need to get out there for the sake of timing. I don't want to do anything to injure it any worse, obviously, but I've gotten past the point where I could do anything catastrophic."

Manager Mike Scioscia affirmed that he expects to have his center fielder in the lineup against the Mariners by Sunday, giving him a full week of games to prepare for the postseason -- an event whose existence Scioscia isn't quite ready to acknowledge in conversations with media.

"The thing we're probably more concerned with isn't the ankle, but the residual effect on his legs," Scioscia said. "He hit from both sides today, and he's close. It's gone from questionable to probable that he'll play sometime in this series."

Matthews signed a five-year free-agent deal with the Angels on Nov. 22, 2006, expressing his desire to perform close to home -- he was raised in the San Fernando Valley -- with a club capable of playing into October. This will be a first for Matthews, playing for his seventh Major League organization.

"Once it's over, I'll be able to reflect on the season," Matthews said. "Really, I couldn't be happier with the decision I made. Being here, in this position, has validated that decision. It was truly the best decision for me and my family."

His father, Gary "Sarge" Matthews, stays in touch with Gary by phone. The former Major League star has been busy all season as a broadcaster for the Phillies, who are still in the playoff hunt in the NL East.

"It's getting to that really exciting part of the season -- for everybody," Matthews said. "There are so many possibilities. I'm just thankful this [ankle injury] wasn't as bad as I thought when it happened."

Guerrero still not ready to throw: Scioscia had Vladimir Guerrero in the DH spot again, and that's where he figures to stay for a while as he recovers from his inflamed right triceps.

"Vlad's doing internal strength [exercises] for his arm and elbow," Scioscia said. "We want to keep doing that a little more before he throws. That's going to be pushed back for now. I would think it'd be days [before he tests the arm throwing]. The training staff thinks it's important to get a few more days [of physical therapy]."

Clinching his 10th consecutive season hitting .300 or better with 25 or more home runs, Guerrero is second on the all-time list. Lou Gehrig, from 1927 through 1937, reached those milestones in 11 consecutive seasons.

Figgins sits: Still not quite ready to swing with meaning from the right side as he recovers from the bone bruise in his left wrist, Chone Figgins was out of the lineup against Mariners southpaw Ryan Feierabend.

Scioscia said Figgins took batting practice from the right side on Thursday and could play on Friday night against Jarrod Washburn, a lefty well known to the Angels and their fans as staff ace and 18-game winner for the 2002 World Series champs.

Hit-happy: Even though they've been out-homered by 26 through 152 games, the Angels have outscored their opponents by 106 runs by out-hitting them, .286 to .264, and by putting the ball in play to fuel their running game. While their opponents have struck out 1,091 times, the Angels have gone down on strikes just 820 times.

The Angels are fourth in the AL in runs scored, fifth in fewest runs allowed.

Booties for baby "Boot": Chris Bootcheck, known as "Boot" to teammates, is a father for the first time. Wife Gina gave birth to Marin Lilly Bootcheck on Thursday morning. She weighs 6 pounds, 3 ounces and is 19 inches long.

Bootcheck has been one of the unsung pillars of the Angels pitching staff this season after making the club as a non-roster invitee. He's been durable, leading the team's relievers with 75 innings pitched, with a 3-2 record and 4.68 ERA across 48 appearances.

On Sept. 20 in Angels history: In 2005, on his way to the Cy Young Award, Bartolo Colon gave up an unearned run in seven innings to beat the Rangers, 2-1, at Angel Stadium for his 20th win -- the first Angels pitcher to reach that plateau since Nolan Ryan in 1974.

Up next: Joe Saunders (8-3, 3.82) engages Washburn (9-15, 4.53) at 7:05 PT on Friday night at Angel Stadium.