© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
06/29/07 7:40 PM ET
Notes: Matthews returns to center
Veteran back in lineup after hamstring costs him four games
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Gary Matthews Jr. was back in center field and hitting cleanup on Friday night in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, his tight left hamstring healed after restricting him to the bench for four games. The Angels were swept at home by Kansas City without Matthews, their runaway express grinding to a halt after they'd taken 16 of the first 21 June games. "That's hard, not being able to help," Matthews said. "I'm not the main ingredient, but I want to be in there." Matthews, who flied out in one pinch-hit appearance after experiencing tightness running to first on Saturday night against Pittsburgh, has started all but six games in center this season. Only Orlando Cabrera, with 75 starts at shortstop and one as a DH, has been more durable among Angels regulars. Vladimir Guerrero has made 75 starts, 12 as DH. "You hate to see the team go down three games like we did [against Kansas City]," Matthews said. "This is Major League Baseball. We feel we should win at home." They usually do. Only Milwaukee (30-13) has won more often at home than the Angels (29-13). Even more impressive is the Angels' road record. Since starting the season in a 1-8 road haze, the Halos have rebounded with 19 wins in 28 games. Only Detroit (27-15) and Boston (25-17) have better road records among American League clubs. Willits sits: While Matthews was mending, the Angel Stadium wall managed to do something few pitchers have accomplished this season. It slowed Reggie Willits to a crawl. Driving his right leg into the wall making a catch against the Royals on Wednesday, Willits -- fifth in the AL in hitting at .337 -- was removed from the game. Still sore in the leg and also in his right shoulder, the Angels' Rookie of the Year candidate -- and USA Today's Friday cover subject -- was not on Mike Scioscia's lineup card for the first of three games with the Orioles. "Reggie's a little banged up today," Scioscia said, giving Robb Quinlan a start in left. "It's good [for him] to take another day to heal up a little bit." Willits might serve as DH if he's not healthy enough to play in the outfield when he does come back, Scioscia added. "That's probably the hardest I've ever hit a wall," Willits said. "I went in face first. My right eye's pretty sore." Asked if he'd do it again, Willits said: "Any time you save a run, it's worth it." Willits is hitting .376 on the road, second in the AL behind Magglio Ordonez (.382), with teammate Cabrera third at .367. The ability to perform at a high level on the road is generally seen as an indicator of mental toughness, a quality embodied by Willits and Cabrera. Gorneault arrives: The Salt Lake shuttle dropped off another outfielder at Scioscia's doorstep, as Nick Gorneault was summoned from Triple-A to replace Shea Hillenbrand after the veteran DH was designated for assignment. When the Angels last saw Nick Gorneault, he was bowling over Dodgers catcher Mike Lieberthal in the Freeway Series, wrapping up a sensational Spring Training. The Springfield, Mass., native was disappointed but philosophical when he began the season at Salt Lake and good buddies Willits and Tommy Murphy made the Angels' 25-man roster. "Any time you're close to where you want to be, it's rough," Gorneault said. "But at every level of this game, things happen for a reason. If you have to go down, you work on things, get stronger in every way." Even though he hit only .220 with with 10 homers and 29 RBIs at Salt Lake, Gorneault had been heating up when he got the call. Family members quickly arranged a trip south from Massachusetts to be with Nick in his first exposure to the Majors in regular-season play after six-plus Minor League campaigns. "I couldn't feel any more love than I had [from teammates Thursday] after the game when guys congratulated me," Gorneault said. "It was the same when I got here." He opened the season with Nathan Haynes and Terry Evans in the Salt Lake outfield. Haynes has become a valuable Angels backup, while Evans homered in his first Major League start against Houston before he was returned to Salt Lake to make room for Joe Saunders. Rehab updates: Scioscia said he's hopeful left fielder Garret Anderson (aggravated right hip flexor), infielder Maicer Izturis (tight hamstring, oblique) and reliever Justin Speier (intestinal virus) all will be back with the club before the July 9-12 All-Star break. Anderson, Izturis and Speier are at Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Speier pitched Thursday, giving up one earned run on two hits in one inning. "It looks like he's making some progress," Scioscia said of Speier, trying to regain full strength after losing about 12 pounds. "He's sleeping much better, and his strength is getting to where we can see some light at the end of the tunnel." Izturis played third behind Speier and was hitless with a walk in three at-bats against Inland Empire on Thursday. Anderson was set to play Friday night. "It would be important to get them some at-bats before the break, to work out some rough edges and be productive after the break," Scioscia said. Up next: Bartolo Colon (6-3, 5.90 ERA) will face Orioles southpaw Brian Burres (3-2, 3.36 ERA) in the game at Oriole Park on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.