Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome Back Matsui

Godzilla is back.

Four months and one day after fracturing his left wrist, Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui was listed as the Yankees' designated hitter and No. 8 hitter for Tuesday's game.

And while the Yankees have built a record that's 30 games over .500 without him, they were sure happy to see him in uniform and preparing for the Devil Rays, not just drills.

"I'm happy he's back; it'll make us deeper," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "No question, you can never have too much talent."

Matsui fractured his wrist on May 11, diving for a line drive hit by Boston's Mark Loretta. The injury snapped his 1,768 consecutive games played streak that began in Yomiuri in Matsui's native Japan and covered four seasons with the Yankees.

Now Matsui is starting from square one. Asked if he thought he would be nervous, Matsui said he wasn't sure. Even he said he's curious to see how he's going to do.

"I'm very excited," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I've been preparing for four months for this day so I think I'm ready. ... I was really waiting for that moment [to put on the uniform]. So I'm just really happy."

Matsui went 3-for-11 (.273) with one double, one RBI, one run scored, six walks and two strikeouts in four rehab starts with Double-A Trenton. Matsui was hitting .261 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 32 games before suffering the injury.

The 32-year-old Matsui had never experienced a major injury before in his career so it's still unknown how he'll bounce back. It was unknown if Matsui was even going to be able to return at all this season.

"You can never judge because he's never gone through anything like this before," Torre said. "But you know one thing, if discipline had anything to do with it, he had a heck of chance. I started believing for a while that he was going to be back in August just hearing how he was talking about it."

Matsui underwent surgery 12 hours after sustaining the injury and immediately went to work rehabbing it. He apologized to his teammates for not being able to help the team.

"I felt like -- as a starter -- starters have a responsibility," Matsui said. "Obviously, it wasn't what I caused; it was an accident. But as a starter, the team depends on you to be out there. The fact [was] that I wasn't going to be able to be [a] strength [for] the team; I felt bad."

Matsui first proclaimed that his goal would be to come back some time this season. He later targeted a Sept. 1 return date, but some soreness in the wrist pushed batting practice up a bit.

He said doesn't feel any pain when swinging, but ices his wrist for precautionary reasons.
Matsui was vigilant about his rehabbing. He would run on the Yankees outfield among the sprinklers after games and even during rain, when the throng of Japanese media, along with everyone else, had retreated inside.

He did anything he could -- having other people catch for him while he threw with his right hand -- and just practicing his swing with a miniature bat about a month ago.

"I wasn't really paying attention to coming back this season or next season," Matsui said. "I was just focused on making sure this injury is healed and that's really what preoccupied my mind. I'm just really happy to come back as early [as I am] this season."

Now the question will be where Matsui fits into what is becoming a crowded Yankees outfield. With Gary Sheffield possibly returning later this week and Melky Cabrera having done a solid job in his stead, the Yankees don't yet have a timetable of when Matsui will be able to reclaim his spot in left field.

Matsui said he feels he is ready to play the field and Torre said he wants to talk more with general manager Brian Cashman before making a decision to put Matsui in the outfield. But he did say he wouldn't be afraid to do so if he felt Matsui was healthy enough.

As far as Matsui's contribution at the plate, Torre had more answers for that.

"I don't think it's going to take him very long to get his stroke back," Torre said. "It's just a matter of we'll see when he's ready to hit in the middle [of the lineup]."

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BallHype: hype it up! Posted by Steve Kenul at 9:28 PM


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