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Notes: Matthews bats in cleanup spot

Notes: Matthews bats in cleanup spot

ARLINGTON -- For his return to Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, where he spent three breakthrough seasons before the Angels enriched him with a five-year deal last winter, Gary Matthews Jr. had a surprise in store.

After homering the previous two games in the No. 3 and No. 5 spots in the order, Matthews found his name in the No. 4 hole, right behind Vladimir Guerrero.

A leadoff man through the season's first month, Matthews produced a few laughs when he was asked to recall the last time he batted cleanup.

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"Little League, probably," he said, adding that he thinks he has hit fourth before as a professional but couldn't remember where or when.

Hitting behind Vlad, who has been intentionally walked nine times, has become the dominant storyline for the Angels. Matthews' game-winning homer on Wednesday night against Cleveland came from the third spot, right in front Guerrero. Matthews was hitting fifth, two slots behind Vlad, when he launched a three-run bomb on Thursday.

"I can't change anything," Matthews said, arriving at his former home batting .299 with .455 slugging and .351 on-base averages. "I'll play my game, just go out and be me. I'll hit where they need me.

"When Garret [Anderson] comes back and we get some guys healthy, the lineup's going to be different. You probably won't see me in the cleanup spot or fifth spot again."

Anderson, doing much better than expected in his recovery from a tear in his right hip flexor muscle, could be back sometime on this road trip if the healing runs its course.

Manager Mike Scioscia is keeping all of his options open with the versatile Matthews, having found in fourth outfielder Reggie Willits (.438 on-base, .359 batting average) a viable leadoff option, with Chone Figgins also in the picture as he regains his stroke.

"We need Gary in the middle of the lineup now," Scioscia said. "It gives us a lot of options if Reggie's still playing well."

Hillenbrand keeps busy: Designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand was out of the lineup for the third consecutive game, with Kendry Morales getting the start. That spot has been occupied the past two games by Morales (two-run homer Wednesday) and Guerrero (two-run double) as Hillenbrand has worked with hitting coach Mickey Hatcher to find his comfort zone.

Scioscia had a meeting Friday with Hillenbrand, who praised the manager's "communication through this whole process." A two-time All-Star, Hillenbrand is hitting .225 with no homers and seven RBIs in 102 at-bats, but he believes he has unlocked a few keys in recent days with his set-up in the batter's box.

"My problem is I'm a perfectionist," Hillenbrand said. "I consider myself an extreme student of the game. I'm not content with mediocrity; that's why I'm frustrated. The team needs it now, and that's the biggest frustration for me. Mickey's done a tremendous amount of work trying to find out how I was [hitting] in 2003 and 2004 when I had a lot of success. Since then, I've been searching. You can never be content in this game.

"I'm not worried. I'm happy to part of this team. It's a long season. I'm team-oriented. I'm learning on a daily basis how to handle things better."

Family affair: Highlighting Matthews' return is the opportunity to spend some quality time with sister Cherise Smith and to see so many people -- in the Rangers organization and in life in general -- who made his time in Texas enjoyable.

An African Art History professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Smith will be in the stands this weekend.

"You look up in the family section and find your sister," Matthews said, grinning, "and there she is, reading a book. She'll be up there with a couple of books, probably -- and her husband."

Matthews said his sister often would visit him when he played for the Rangers, and that they'd stay up late talking and lifting each other's spirits over Mexican food and a cold beverage.

Short hops: Infielder Maicer Izturis (tight hamstring) is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. . ... Reliever Justin Speier (non-baseball medical condition) is making progress at home, Scioscia said. ... Anderson "worked out great today," the manager said. "He's making a lot of progress. Hopefully, that timetable is going to be much quicker than originally anticipated." ... Howie Kendrick (broken bone in his left hand) took batting practice for a third time with Triple-A Salt Lake, and the hope is he'll be able to play games there sometime next week. ... Willits, Quinlan, Mike Napoli, Orlando Cabrera, Jose Molina, Casey Kotchman and Erick Aybar were getting a feel for their pink bats in anticipation of using them on Sunday as part of MLB's involvement with breast cancer awareness on Mother's Day.

Up next: Bartolo Colon (3-0, 3.46) will take his turn in the rotation against right-hander Kameron Loe (1-2, 5.76) on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. PT. Colon threw comfortably in the bullpen on Thursday after leaving his previous start against the White Sox after seven innings with a strained triceps muscle.

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

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