Matsui makes outfield debut for Halos

Matsui makes outfield debut for Halos

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Hideki Matsui's plan was to reacquaint himself with the terrain and test himself in left field.

For the four innings he was out there alongside nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter, the Dodgers refused to cooperate.

Facing Angels lefty Joe Saunders in Monday's Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers gave Matsui no action in his first start in the outfield since June 15, 2008, in Interleague Play for the Yankees against the Astros -- a span of 645 days.

"You've got to get that feel back," Matsui said through translator Roger Kahlon. "Good form comes in time.

"A lot of thoughts went through my mind. It was a little weird. It's been two years."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia considered it a worthwhile venture even if there wasn't much adventure involved for Matsui.

"He looked good in pregame," Scioscia said. "He's running well. We'll see how he comes out of it. We'll evaluate him tomorrow and see how he feels.

"Hideki in practice is getting to balls hit to him. He's a very experienced player. We're not going to need to see a lot with how he catches a fly ball. It's contingent on how his knee feels. He should be OK. It'll be a good sign if he feels good tomorrow."

Matsui did not play at all in the outfield for the Yankees last season, knee issues confining him to designated-hitter duties. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee after the '08 season.

Matsui took full advantage of his three DH appearances in the World Series to claim the MVP award for his bashing of the Phillies for the Bronx Bombers. Crushing three homers and driving in eight runs in 13 at-bats, he produced a record-tying six RBIs in decisive Game 6.

The goal for the three-time reigning American League West champion Angels is to have Matsui make it through the season and give him a chance to replicate his postseason magic.

Signed to a one-year, $6 million free-agent deal, Matsui expressed a desire to be given a chance to return to the outfield at least on a part-time basis.

The Angels would like to accommodate Matsui with at least a few starts in left per week, if his knees hold up. This would provide DH opportunities for Hunter, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, along with Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli on occasion.

Matsui clearly likes the idea of spending quality time with his glove as well as his menacing bat.

Like Vladimir Guerrero, the man he is replacing in the heart of the lineup, Matsui is convinced playing in the outfield sharpens his senses for his at-bats.

2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info

"I feel like it has a positive effect, staying on the field all the time and playing defense," Matsui said. "I believe strongly that when you're on the field all the time, you're always in the game -- as opposed to DHing.

"I'm used to DHing. But from a rhythm standpoint, mentally you're staying in the game and physically you're staying loose when you're playing in the field."

Supporting his theory with actions, Matsui slammed an RBI single to left center following Hunter's first of two doubles. Matsui also grounded out and walked.

After Matsui departed in the bottom of the fifth, two consecutive Dodgers hitters stroked drives to left. Michael Ryan, Matsui's replacement, chased Blake DeWitt's shot to the wall for a double and then handled Casey Blake's sacrifice fly.

Ryan left the game in the seventh after colliding with shortstop Gary Patchett on a pop fly. Stitches likely would be required near Ryan's left eye, Scioscia said. Patchett remained in the game.

"He wanted to stay in the game," Scioscia said of Ryan. "He's a tough kid."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who deeply appreciated Matsui's many contributions in New York, was happy to see Hideki back on the field.

"Anything he sets out to do, he'll find a way to get the job done," Torre said. "I have great admiration for that man."

Scioscia alluded to the importance of Matsui gaining confidence and comfort in concert with Hunter.

"There's a team element in defense that needs to get pushed forward," Scioscia said. "With Matsui, it's understanding range with Torii, where he needs to go. It'll just take a little time for Hideki to get their range down."

Hunter's range isn't quite line to line, but it's definitely gap to gap.

"It was good for Hideki to get out there, even if they didn't hit anything his way," Hunter said. "I could tell he was happy to be on the field. When we were playing catch before innings, I threw one high to him, to see him go up for it. He kind of smiled at me."

That turned out to be the closest Matsui came to some action.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.