In a stale offense that has seen the Angels all but drop out of the playoff race, two hitters have stood out of late: Matsui and Torii Hunter. Hunter entered Thursday's off-day with a .352 average over a nine-game hitting streak, and his leadoff double on Wednesday led to the winning run in the 16th inning against the Indians in Anaheim.
Besides being inserted as pinch-hitter before being pulled back, Matsui was given the day off on Wednesday, even though no one's been hotter -- not even Hunter. Matsui is hitting .403 since Aug. 14, raising his average from .243 to .266, and he's delivered an RBI in 17 of his last 18 starts.
Quite a departure from Matsui's .184 clip in May, or the .228 average he posted in July.
"No doubt Hideki is feeling much more comfortable in the batter's box," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He started off the season very strong for us. He went through a long stretch where he was just trying to find his timing and wasn't squaring balls up. He's gotten it back, and I'm sure he's going to finish strong for us."
Strong finish or not, it could be a case of too little too late -- certainly in terms of helping the Angels win, and quite possibly in terms of his return next season. The Angels entered Thursday 9 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, and Matsui, 36, is to be a free agent this offseason after he signed a one-year, $6 million deal in December.
"As of right now, I'm not really thinking about anything beyond this season," Matsui said. "It would be nice, in general, if you were asked to stay with the team you're with."
Matsui's 18 home runs and 74 RBIs with 22 games remaining will likely leave him short of his totals from last season, when he was named the World Series MVP: 28 home runs and 90 RBIs in the regular season. He's also struck out 90 times this season, already 15 more than he did last year.
"I don't think we're in this position because of anything Hideki has done or hasn't done," Scioscia said. "We are in this position because we've had too many guys that for long stretches were really under performing and that really haven't gotten back to that level. But Hideki's one of those guys that has."
Even had Matsui hit evenly this season, there simply may not be a spot for him next year. The Angels have long been believed to be a top suitor for Rays outfielder Carl Crawford, and another 36-year-old, Bobby Abreu, has a year left on his contract and appears headed for the DH role that Matsui's filled. When Scioscia didn't start Matsui on Wednesday, one of the reasons was because he wanted to get Abreu into the DH spot.
On Wednesday, FoxSports.com reported that David Ortiz thought Crawford would land with the Angels or Yankees. Hunter has spoken to Crawford about free agency, and their lockers were next to each other at this year's All-Star Game. This week, Hunter said he would love to see a Matsui return next year.
"I always respected his game, to just watch the way he carries himself, his professionalism," Hunter said. "He's a true professional, and all he cares about is baseball."
Matsui, Scioscia and general manager Tony Reagins said their focus remains on this season and declined to discuss offseason plans. But speaking generally, Reagins gave validity to the possibility that Abreu would DH next season.
"As a player gets older, and if a player can handle that type of role, that's definitely a possibility," Reagins said.
Matsui hass appeared in 125 games this season, 104 of them as the DH. He's been troubled by his surgically repaired knees in years past, something he said wasn't a hindrance this season as much as it was last season, but it nonetheless means he's become an American League player.
"This year it's been really good," Matsui said. "Compared to last year, it's much better. Last year, even though I didn't go on to the DL, there were times when I sort of had some ups and downs."
When Matsui began his Major League career with the Yankees in 2003, he had a goal to play 10 seasons. With eight under his belt, he's no longer focused on the decade mark.
"Right now, the way I see it, I really don't have a longterm goal," Matsui said. "I look at it year-by-year."
"I have to wait until the season finishes and then think about what will happen next. As of right now, I have no thoughts about going back to Japan."
Matsui's production level is still strong enough that he shouldn't have to think about leaving the Majors yet. He just may have to think about the 13 other American League teams that need a DH.
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.