Limited Matsui still impresses Hunter

Limited Matsui still impresses Hunter

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In his first workout in an Angels uniform on Tuesday, Hideki Matsui ran easily, did some light defensive work and took 44 swings in batting practice, estimating his efficiency at about 80 percent.

One of those cuts sent a fly ball over the wall in right field, drawing the attention of Matsui's new teammate, Torii Hunter.

"When he hit that home run," Hunter said, "I told him, 'Please, not my car. My car's parked over there.' I might need to move it."

Matsui met Hunter in Japan in 2002, when a team of touring Major League stars featured the engaging center fielder, then a Minnesota Twins star.

Matsui, the most celebrated baseball player in the land at the time with the Yomiuri Giants, robbed Hunter of a home run with a catch during an exhibition series.

"I'm very excited to have him out there on my side now," Hunter said. "I'm tired of chasing his balls. He's Godzilla of Japan, the great Matsui. He's huge over there.

"He understands English, and I'm able to talk to him. We had a good conversation out there today. First day, we're just kind of taking it easy. We don't want to push it. We need him in April -- and October."

Hunter admittedly was concerned when he heard over the winter that Vladimir Guerrero would not be back, joining American League West-rival Texas.

"When we lost Vladimir, I was like, 'Wow,'" Hunter said. "Then we signed Matsui, one of the quietest clutch hitters in the game. I've been playing against him since 2003 and 2004, when he came to the Yankees and I was with the Twins. He was always coming up with clutch hits.

"I'm excited to have him as a teammate."

Hunter was impressed with Matsui's stroke in his first day facing live pitching as well as the way he moved in the outfield, even though he's favoring tender knees.

"He definitely has that same smooth swing," Hunter said. "He's always hitting that hole between first and second. And he can go 'oppo' [opposite field]. He stays in and has a good eye, and his balance is great."

2009 .282 .358 .618 .976
Career .294 .354 .465 .824

Matsui has a history of doing just as much damage against left-handed pitching as right-handers, rare for a lefty swinger.

"That shows his balance, how he stays on the ball," Hunter said. "Most lefties kind of fall out. He stays in there and stays on the ball."

Defensively, Hunter said, "We kind of kept it easy today. Matsui has a knee problem. All us veteran guys are going to take it easy for a while, get the kinks out. He looked good, fielding-wise and hitting-wise."

Angels outfield coach Ron Roenicke said Matsui won't do anything to place undue stress his knees, especially this early in Spring Training.

"He's running fine," Roenicke said. "He says he feels good, and we've got to keep it that way.

"There are certain drills I know that are going to be tough. You don't want to throw him out and have him do everything. We're going easy with him. Today he didn't do agilities. He was able to do bike work."

The Angels, aware of his immense popularity in Japan, are getting accustomed to the increasing numbers of media members covering Matsui's every move. There are close to 50 Japanese news people in camp.

"Yesterday I went out to leave and he was just leaving the parking lot, and they were all out there," Roenicke said, grinning. "It's going to be an interesting year."

In other Angels news from camp on Tuesday, the club reached 2010 contract agreements with right-handed pitchers Fernando Rodriguez, Trevor Bell, Sean O'Sullivan, Bobby Mosebach and Anthony Ortega, catcher Bobby Wilson and Ryan Budde, infielders Mark Trumbo and Freddy Sandoval and outfielders Chris Pettit and Terry Evans.

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