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Angels deep, thinking big entering '08

Angels enter '08 thinking big

An expensive center fielder has joined the Angels for the second year in a row. This time it's Torii Hunter, one of the Majors' most-magnetic performers.

A Rawlings Gold Glove winner seven consecutive seasons with the Twins, Hunter is coming off one of his best years, with 28 homers, 107 RBIs and a .287 average in 2007. He was amazed when he learned that his Angels debut would come in the Metrodome, his former home, in front of fans who cheered and adored him.

"This is going to be something to remember," Hunter said. "I had some great years there. A whole lot of memories."

Hunter moves Gary Matthews Jr., the 2007 model in center, into a new role as an all-purpose outfielder/designated hitter.

Where Matthews plays, and how often he's in the DH role, will hinge in part on the durability of Garret Anderson in left and Vladimir Guerrero in right. Proven Major Leaguers Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera provide unmatched depth and DH options.

It is manager Mike Scioscia's intention to use a revolving DH, keeping his outfielders fresh. Neither Anderson nor Guerrero wants to DH more than occasionally, preferring to use the skills that made them stars. Hunter rarely will leave center, where he'll save runs as he has done throughout his brilliant career.

While Hunter provides megawatt personality and high performance, Guerrero remains the centerpiece of the organization.

Third in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting in 2007, Guerrero has lost none of his zest for the game.

"Absolutely, I still enjoy playing as much as ever -- maybe more so," Guerrero said. "The only thing I miss is stealing bases. I don't do that like I used to."

As a young Montreal Expos star in 2000 and 2001, Guerrero produced 37 and 40 steals in successive seasons. He was only two for five in steals in '07, but he still goes first to third and legs out doubles and triples with the vitality of a player 10 years younger.

A hot spring indicated that Matthews will find the No. 2 spot in the batting order -- between Chone Figgins and Guerrero -- to his liking. A steady diet of fastballs, courtesy of Guerrero's presence behind him, helped the since-traded Orlando Cabrera to a career-high .301 average in 2007.

Cabrera vacated the No. 2 hole and the shortstop role, leaving it in the sure hands of Maicer Izturis and the spectacular Erick Aybar. Scioscia anticipates big things from first baseman Casey Kotchman and second baseman Howard Kendrick, each having the ability to contend for batting titles while playing quality defense.

Catchers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis figure to share the job fairly evenly. Napoli's booming bat is his edge, while Mathis has superior defensive skills and an excellent arm.

Pitching matchup

LAA: RHP Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91 ERA in 2007)
With superb command and a confident manner, Weaver appears to be back to his rookie form of 2006, when he won his first nine Major League decisions.

MIN: RHP Livan Hernandez (11-11, 4.93 ERA)
Replacing Johan Santana in this role is no easy assignment, but Hernandez has an unflappable temperament.

Tidbits
The Twins' lineup pivots around stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and the Angels have done a good job of containing them. Morneau is a .212 career hitter against the Halos with five homers and 14 RBIs in 118 at-bats, while Mauer is hitting .329 with one homer and eight RBIs in 70 at-bats.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday

•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN, ESPN2

On radio
• KLAA 830, KWKW 1330 (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Angels (Jon Garland, 10-13, 4.23) at Twins (Boof Bonser, 8-12, 5.10), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: Angels (Joe Saunders, 8-5, 4.44) at Twins (Kevin Slowey, 4-1, 4.73), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Angels (Ervin Santana, 7-14, 5.76) at Twins (Nick Blackburn, 0-2, 7.71), 10:10 a.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.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }