Notes: Matthews awaits Figgins' return
Leadoff man has nothing but praise for Izturis, Aybar, Willits
CHICAGO -- Gary Matthews Jr. prefaces his comments with praise for Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar and Reggie Willits for handling the job of hitting in front of him so capably.Having said that, Matthews points out that there are few players in the game who bring to the table-setting role what Chone Figgins does. Figgins' impending return to the lineup -- perhaps on Monday night in Kansas City -- is a clear positive for the Angels. "I've never had that in my career," said Matthews, the club's leadoff man, of the prospect of Figgins' burning speed ahead of him from the No. 9 spot. "To have two leadoff hitters back-to-back -- guys who can get on base consistently and create havoc on the bases -- that creates more pressure on the pitcher and the defense. "That's why getting the leadoff guy on base is so important. It definitely creates a lot of opportunities for mistakes when you apply pressure by running the bases hard. This team is pretty aggressive on the basepaths -- and there are just a few guys who can steal and run the bases like Chone. "It will definitely bring a different dynamic to the lineup, another threat for opposing teams to think about, worry about, prepare for. Figgy is a presence." Figgins hasn't played this season after fracturing the tips of his right index and middle fingers fielding a ground ball in Arizona on March 22. He has been getting a feel for all aspects of the game at Triple-A Salt Lake, pointing toward the Angels' series with the Royals, which begins on Monday night in Kansas City. "I talked to [Figgins] after last night's game," manager Mike Scioscia said on Sunday as the Angels prepared for their rubber match against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. "He's going to DH today and take infield. If everything goes well, he'll join us tomorrow in Kansas City." Figgins is a .285 career hitter with 163 steals in 547 games. The American League steals king in 2005 with 62, following that with 52 last season, he spearheads a relay team that has topped the league in steals three consecutive seasons. Led by Matthews, who has six thefts, the Angels were an uncharacteristic fourth in the AL in steals through Saturday with 18, seven behind Tampa Bay. The New York Mets were leading the National League with 23, one more than the Dodgers. Izturis, Aybar and Willits, while delivering some clutch hits in the ninth spot in the order, are a combined 5-for-7 in steals. Praise for Izturis: If Figgins reclaims third base on Monday night, Izturis will share second with Aybar while Howie Kendrick waits for the broken bone in his left hand to heal. In 21 games at third base, covering 188 innings, Izturis, a natural shortstop, made one error in 52 chances for a glittering .981 fielding percentage. "He had to learn on the fly," Scioscia said. "It's on-the-job training. He's been remarkable -- as Chone was [moving from second base to third]. It's not an easy transition. "Izzy and Brandon Wood have played the left side of the infield. For Chone it's a little tougher coming over from second base. It's a lot quicker game over at third base." Wood, who was returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Figgins, started at third on Sunday and delivered his first Major League hit -- against Bobby Jenks -- and scored his first run in the 5-2 victory. Closers united: Francisco Rodriguez is well aware of the struggles of several distinguished peers, notably the Yankees' Mariano Rivera and the Padres' Trevor Hoffman, leaders of the closing pack for years. As K-Rod was nailing down his seventh save in eight opportunities on Saturday night, Rivera was notching his first of the season and Hoffman, the all-time kingpin, was ending a rare streak of two blown saves by saving one against the Dodgers. "It's not how they start, it's how they finish," K-Rod said when asked about elders Rivera and Hoffman. "They've been around so long and know what to do. It's a long year. Mark this down -- when the season's over, they'll have 55, 60 appearances, and they'll have their saves. They're going to be fine." Up next: John Lackey (3-2, 2.35 ERA) kicks off the four-game set against the Royals on Monday, facing veteran southpaw Odalis Perez (2-2, 7.54 ERA) at 5:10 p.m. PT at Kauffman Stadium.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.