Mathis to catch Game 2
Santana's personal catcher to spell Napoli behind plate
ANAHEIM -- After taking a backseat to hot-hitting catcher Mike Napoli down the stretch, Angels catcher Jeff Mathis will get a shot behind the plate on Friday in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.
Mathis, who started 28 consecutive games in July and into early August when Mike Napoli was on the disabled list with irritation in his right shoulder, lost playing time late in the season because of the way Napoli was swinging the bat.
After returning to the club on Aug. 9, Napoli batted .388 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in 31 games to help the Angels finish strong. Meanwhile, Mathis batted just .131 with no homers and just three RBIs in that span and saw his role diminish.
"He just came back and started swinging the bat," Mathis said. "That's something where you have to get him in. You just have to sit back and cheer him on and wish him the best."
But Mathis won't have a chance to sit back on Friday as he will catch Ervin Santana because he has become almost a personal catcher for the right-hander.
Mathis has caught 189 of Santana's 219 innings this season with Santana carrying a 3.19 ERA when Mathis catches and a 5.40 ERA when he doesn't.
Mathis doesn't know how the rapport began between the two but it's been that way ever since Mathis was called up last season. Even though Santana struggled last season with a 5.76 ERA, he had a 3.32 ERA with Mathis behind the plate.
"I've been catching him nearly every time but I don't know how that came about," Mathis said. I just know we had some good games together and it just seemed to work out that way."
2008 regular-season stats
|Team record in starts|
The duo's success together why Angels manager Mike Scioscia is comfortable starting Mathis behind the plate, even though Napoli has been the better hitter this season.
"The catching position on the defensive side is going to affect the outcome more than any one guy in the batter's box," Scioscia said. "The 150 pitches that Jeff is going to hopefully call tomorrow are going to influence the game than anything that's going to happen in four at-bats."
Scioscia, who caught 13 seasons in the Majors with the Dodgers, has always maintained that a catcher's ability to call a game is more important than his ability to hit.
In that regard, Mathis has handled the pitching staff better than Napoli this season as Angels pitchers have a 3.65 ERA when Mathis catches and a 4.45 ERA when Napoli catches.
But it's still hard to ignore the numbers Napoli has put up offensively. The 6-foot, 205 pound catcher hit .273 with 20 home runs and 49 RBIs along with a .374 on-base percentage and a .586 slugging percentage.
Meanwhile, Mathis struggled at the plate and batted just .194 with nine homers and 42 RBIs.
Napoli, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Game 1, has no hard no feelings that Mathis will get the start at his expense in Game 2.
"He's worked with Santana well," Napoli said. "Those two guys get after it together. I'll be on the bench with my pom-poms."
And if Napoli sees anything from his spot on the bench he'll gladly share it with Mathis. After all, the two are roommates off the field.
"If I see something I'll let him know and if he sees something he'll let me know," Napoli said. "Hitting, catching, anything. We're always helping each other."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.