Matthews, Angels finding a groove

Matthews, Angels finding a groove

ANAHEIM -- After playing sporadically through the first half as a fifth wheel, Gary Matthews Jr. will be making his 14th consecutive start in center field in the absence of Torii Hunter.

The Angels have been rolling even without Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Rivera -- their starting outfield. They'll try to generate enough offense against right-hander Nick Blackburn to provide a cushion for Matt Palmer in his first start in almost a month. FOX will carry the action with Kenny Albert handling the play-by-play and former Major League slugger Eric Karros delivering the commentary.

"It's definitely easier to have some good at-bats when you've had some games under your belt," Matthews said, having replaced Hunter on July 8 after the eight-time Gold Glove winner strained the adductor muscle on his right side. "The most important things are timing and pitch recognition, and when you're playing every day as opposed to not getting consistent at-bats, it makes a big difference."

This was most evident on Thursday night in the series opener against the Twins. With the Angels trailing in the ninth inning, two on and two out, Matthews -- with three multiple-hit games in the past seven -- stepped in against Joe Nathan, an All-Star closer with few peers.

Falling behind 1-2 in the count, Matthews took a couple of close pitches to run the count full. Nathan put a slider down, in a good spot, and Matthews flipped it into center field for an RBI single. After Howard Kendrick's infield hit, off the bag at second, tied the game at 5, the Angels won it in the 10th on Mike Napoli's walk-off double to right center.

"I've faced Nathan a handful of times, and I know how tough he is," Matthews said. "I've done it so many times, hitting in a situation like that -- bottom of the ninth, facing a closer -- to know that it helps. You don't think about the fact that if you don't get it done, the game's over. You approach it like any at-bat."

But Nathan isn't just any pitcher. He'd converted 20 consecutive save chances and did not allow an earned run in 24 games, covering 22 2/3 innings. This would be his third blown save of the season and first since May 15 at Yankee Stadium.

"He throws 94 to 96 [mph], and when he's ahead in the count like that, he has no reason to come over the plate," Matthews said. "You're just battling at that point. He never gave me anything great to it. It was a backdoor slider that I hit -- sometimes it falls, sometimes it doesn't."

The game situation worked in Matthews' benefit. Center fielder Carlos Gomez was deep, in what is known as a "no doubles" alignment, the idea being to prevent the tying run from scoring on a ball in the gap.

"Let's be honest," Matthews said. "If they're not playing no doubles, that's an out. That definitely worked to our advantage."

There also was good fortune involved in Kendrick's ground ball getting past Nathan and glancing off the bag as shortstop Nick Punto went to make the play.

"It would have been bang-bang [at second]," Matthews said. "I was just starting to go into my slide when it hit the bag, but it wouldn't have been an easy play to make with his footwork and the momentum he had."

The Angels exercised tremendous plate discipline throughout the series opener, working Twins pitchers for 190 pitches compared to 145 thrown by the Angels' staff. Matthews was one of five Angels hitters who saw 20 or more pitches, led by Bobby Abreu with 33.

"Good things tend to happen when you're putting together solid at-bats," Matthews said. "As a club, we've been having good at-bats pretty consistently, and that gives you a chance to make things happen."

Pitching matchup
LAA: Matt Palmer (7-1, 4.75 ERA)
Palmer makes his first start since June 28 in Arizona, but he's been keeping busy in the bullpen, having put together a 2.92 ERA in nine appearances. He's 7-1 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts. Palmer has been effective at home (4-1, 4.14) and against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .215 batting average and .363 slugging percentage. Left-handed batters are hitting .294 with a .412 slugging mark. Palmer is facing Minnesota for the first time.

MIN: RHP Nick Blackburn (8-4, 3.44 ERA)
It wasn't exactly the way that Blackburn wanted to start off the second half, as he delivered his worst start since early May. The right-hander lasted just five innings against the A's and gave up seven runs on 13 hits, which tied for the most hits allowed by a Twins pitcher this season. Blackburn has been solid with his sinker ball, so the Twins hope he can bounce back with the pitch in his next outing. In three career starts vs. the Angels, Blackburn is 0-2 with a 4.00 ERA.

Tidbits
Robb Quinlan, whose two-run homer in the second inning gave John Lackey the lead in the second inning on Friday night, has homered in consecutive starts for the first time since July 5 and July 7, 2006. Quinlan, a former University of Minnesota star who graduated with a degree in marketing and communications in 1999, always is enthused about chances to play against his home-state team -- maybe too enthused. This was his first career homer against the Twins and second extra-base hit. ... Making his fourth start at first base, Brandon Wood started a quick double play with Lackey taking shortstop Erick Aybar's throw at first. ... The Angels are 6-0 when Reggie Willits bats ninth, providing a second leadoff presence in front of Chone Figgins. ... Right-hander Bobby Mosebach arrived to provide bullpen depth with Palmer moving into the rotation for at least one start. Outfielder Terry Evans was returned to Triple-A Salt Lake without appearing in a game. ... The Angels had won all six of Sean O'Sullivan's starts (he's 3-0) and are 9-2 in Palmer's starts.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FOX

On radio
• KLAA 830, KWKW 1330 (Español)

Up next
• Sunday: Angels (Ervin Santana, 3-5, 6.79) vs. Twins (Anthony Swarzak, 2-3, 4.15), 12:35 p.m. PT
• Monday: Angels (Joe Saunders, 8-6, 4.94) vs. Indians (Carl Pavano, 8-8, 5.48), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Tuesday: Angels (Jered Weaver, 10-3, 3.57) vs. Indians (David Huff, 5-4, 6.39), 7:05 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.