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Notes: Mr. Versatility does it again

Notes: Matthews Jr. shows versatility

SEATTLE -- In yet another manifestation of his remarkable versatility, Gary Matthews Jr. was back in the leadoff spot on Wednesday for the first time since May 3. His 17th homer on Tuesday night helped fuel a comeback from a five-run deficit that stunned the Mariners at Safeco Field.

"I walked in [to the clubhouse] and someone said I was leading off," Matthews said. "I've been in the middle of the order for a while. You have an idea how your at-bats are going to be. It's different in the leadoff spot -- you find ways to get on base and make things happen. Down in the order, your job is to drive in runs."

Manager Mike Scioscia has moved Matthews around like a chess piece. This was the center fielder's 30th game leading off. He has batted third four times, cleanup 36 times, fifth 39 times, sixth 14 times and seventh on one occasion.

Chone Figgins' absence with a left wrist injury, Kendry Morales' hot bat and Casey Kotchman's return to active duty prompted the move to the top of the order for Matthews, with Reggie Willits taking a day off against hard-throwing Felix Hernandez.

"Obviously, I want to keep Kendry's bat in there," Scioscia said of the first baseman/DH, who homered, doubled and singled in Tuesday's 10-6 triumph and is a .450 hitter during a six-game hitting streak.

The manager added that Kotchman's injured left hand has healed -- he's 3-for-8 with a homer against Hernandez -- and Maicer Izturis, hitting fifth in the order, is batting .417 with runners in scoring position.

"It might be a short-term thing," Scioscia said of Matthews at the top of the order. "It might give him a different look in the leadoff spot for a day."

Matthews, an All-Star for the first time last season in Texas primarily as a leadoff man, had no complaints.

"Mike does a good job of plugging guys in different spots," Matthews said. "Players aren't always crazy about it, but how can you deny the results? It's always easier to be in one spot, but if you give me the option of bouncing around in the order and playing in the playoffs and possibly the World Series -- that's what I'll do."

Matthews is excited about the prospect of experiencing postseason play for the first time in his career. To that end, he'll do whatever it takes -- his mantra since the day he signed his five-year, $50 million free-agent contract with the Angels last winter.

"I'm going to stick with what I'm doing -- just go out and play the game," he said. "We've gone without guys for certain amounts of time, and we've been able to plug guys in and still have [success]. I honestly don't care where I hit."

Matthews feels the Pacific Northwest, with its fresh, cool air, invigorates him. He has 11 homers against the Mariners the past two seasons and is a .340 hitter against Seattle, with five homers and 13 RBIs, this season. At Safeco Field, he's a .313 career hitter, with eight homers in 115 at-bats, and he took a .345 average into Wednesday's game, with four homers in 29 Safeco at-bats.

Looking ahead: With September on the horizon, the Angels have an ally in their pursuit of the American League West Division title. The schedule is their friend -- and the Mariners' biggest enemy.

Seattle clearly has a much more difficult road to nagivate, in every way, shape and direction. The Mariners, starting Thursday with a makeup game in Cleveland, have 17 road tests with 14 home dates remaining. They play 18 games against clubs currently at .500 or better, 13 against clubs below .500.

The Angels, by contrast, have 17 at home -- where they own the best record (44-20) in the Majors -- and 12 on the road. Only eight of their remaining 29 games are against teams that are .500 or better, leaving 21 against sub-.500 outfits.

The four games left between the Angels and Mariners are Sept. 20-23 in Anaheim -- where Seattle is 1-5.

The next 11 days will be especially challenging for the Mariners. Leaving Cleveland, they go to Toronto, New York and Detroit for three games in each place. They're 4-6 combined in those three unfriendly locales.

The Angels will be home during that time, facing the Rangers and A's (three times each) and Indians (four times). The Halos are 10-6 at home against those three clubs.

No decision on rotation: Scioscia said the staff is weighing its options for Monday's starter against Oakland.

Ervin Santana, who yielded five runs on four hits and two walks while getting one out on Tuesday night, remains a possibility. Also under consideration are Dustin Moseley, following his superlative effort (5 1/3 innings, no runs, two hits) in relief of Santana, and Jered Weaver, who faced Hernandez on Wednesday and would be pitching on his normal day.

"There are some things we might be able to bring into Ervin's game to help him," Scioscia said, having reviewed video of Santana's starts with pitching coach Mike Butcher. "It's frustrating. Ervin's frustrated. Still, projecting his career, we're as excited as ever. He's got the potential to be very good for a long time."

Santana's issues are command-related, falling behind in the count. He thought the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre in particular, hit good pitches in his first-inning unraveling.

On Aug. 29 in Angels history: Yankees catcher Thurman Munson collected the only hit against Nolan Ryan in 1973, a popup that fell between several defenders and was ruled, controversially, a hit. Ryan's one-hitter produced a 5-0 Angels win. "The Express" finished his career with a record seven no-hitters.

Rivera update: Outfielder Juan Rivera doubled and drove in two runs for Triple-A Salt Lake in a 6-5 loss to Fresno. Rivera, because he has occupied the 60-day disabled list, is postseason eligible even if he is recalled after Aug. 31.

Up next: Off on Thursday, the Angels open a three-game series with the Rangers on Friday night at Angel Stadium. Joe Saunders (7-2, 3.62) faces Vicente Padilla (4-9, 6.24) in the 7:05 p.m. PT opener.

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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