Traveled Matthews has tools, compass

O's are his 5th team, but staying power is next goal on resume

April 05, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Counting above-average speed among a variety of baseball tools, Gary Matthews Jr. made his first daring move yesterday upon arriving in Baltimore.

He unpacked his suitcase.

It's not a simple act for a player who has bounced around the majors as if made of rubber. When the Orioles traded reliever John Bale to the New York Mets, they brought Matthews to his fifth organization since 1999.

"Hopefully this will be my last stop for a while," he said.

Matthews, 27, was in uniform for last night's game against the New York Yankees. It's amazing that he knew what city he was in.

Drafted in the 13th round by the San Diego Padres in 1993, Matthews was traded to the Chicago Cubs in March 2000 for pitcher Rodney Myers. He was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates in August 2001, and sold to the Mets four months later.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, chooses to see the glass as half full when assessing why Matthews has moved around so much. Though his former teams no longer wanted him, at least somebody else did.

"He's been claimed by a lot of people. That means a lot of people like him," Thrift said. "If you put him on waivers right now, he wouldn't last one day.

"You always give an opportunity to people who have talent."

The Orioles present his latest opportunity.

"He's a plus-runner and he has plus-power. He gives us a little bit more depth," said manager Mike Hargrove, who has no immediate plans to start Matthews, a career .217 hitter with 18 homers in 599 major league at-bats going into this season.

In his first full season in 2001, Matthews batted .227 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs while splitting the summer between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

"He has a high upside," Thrift said. "All we have to do is see what we can do to help his average come higher."

Thrift indicated that the Mets approached him about Bale, which led to the trade. Bale was impressive against the Mets this spring -- a rare occasion when he was healthy enough to pitch.

Mets general manager Steve Phillips informed Matthews of the deal after Wednesday's loss to the Pirates. Matthews had entered the game as a pinch runner.

"I was just starting to get settled in with my new teammates. I was just starting to get comfortable and I had to pack up again. It sort of made me laugh a little bit," he said.

"I'm excited about improving on what I did last year, especially when I went to Pittsburgh. Some things started to click."

Matthews spent about 30 minutes of his drive to Baltimore talking on the phone with his father, a major-league outfielder who's now the hitting coach in Milwaukee. Matthews Sr. also played for five teams -- over 16 seasons.

"Obviously I have a lot of talent and a lot of skills. It's a matter of being more consistent with it," said the younger Matthews, who did not play last night. "It can be tough playing for different coaches and managers.

"It's been quite a few switches the past couple of years. It does make it easier when you've been in one place for a while. Hopefully I'll be here for a while and I can get to know everybody."

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