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Veteran star Hunter impressed by Matsui’s influence on Angels

by Kaz Nagatsuka

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The impact of “Godzilla” cannot be measured just by his contributions during the course of a game, but in the totality of things he does — both on the field and in the clubhouse.

As far as his stats are concerned, it’s difficult to say that Hideki Matsui has excelled for the Los Angeles Angels with his bat this season. After all, he is batting .229, with five home runs and 22 RBIs through Monday.

Yet, to his credit, the 35-year-old veteran never changes his attitude no matter how he’s doing on the diamond. He always works hard, prepares himself well, and politely deals with the media, including the throng of Japanese reporters, every game.

Naturally, Matsui, the reigning World Series MVP, earns respect from his teammates.

Torii Hunter recently spoke of the Japanese slugger’s worth to the American League West Division club.

The three-time All-Star center fielder said that Matsui is “a big asset” to the ballclub.

“He keeps working hard and younger guys see that, and look up to him for doing that,” Hunter said of Matsui’s recent struggles after the Angels’ 12-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on May 15.

“So even though he was struggling, he kept working hard. Look at him, he is going down (to the field) early to hit off the tee, hit in the cage. And these younger guys, they see that. That makes him a leader.

“And he didn’t give up, he didn’t fold, and still talks to the media, he still does everything no matter what. A lot of guys learn from that. I can learn from that.

“So Matsui’s been a big asset. A lot of people think he’s been struggling. But other than that, in the clubhouse he’s been doing a lot of great things people don’t see.”

Matsui, who has coped with knee problems in recent years, hit his first homer in 20 games on May 14, but he’s been fighting to regain his best form.

Hunter, who has a .285 average with seven homers, added that Matsui, the former star with the New York Yankees, who moved to the Angels this year, has begun settling in with his new team.

“(Matsui)’s started cracking jokes to a lot of younger guys,” the nine-time Gold Glove winner said with a smile. “So he’s doing something different because he’s getting comfortable here.”

Asked if the fact that Matsui was the World Series MVP for the Yankees last year helped him earn respect with his new team, Hunter quickly responded by saying, “Oh, definitely.”

He added: “That’s the reason he’s here, because he’s such a clutch hitter. When the game is on the line, you might want him at the plate.”

Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia installed Matsui in the cleanup spot on Opening Day. But Matsui has moved down to the fifth and sixth spots in recent weeks.

Throughout the long season, Matsui’s bat will be a valuable asset for the Angels. His professional approach and likable persona will be equally valuable, too.

Kazuo on the move

HOUSTON (Kyodo) Kazuo Matsui has reached a minor league agreement with his former team, the Colorado Rockies, the official Web site of Major League Baseball reported Monday.

The 34-year-old Matsui cleared waivers on Monday after being released by the Houston Astros last Wednesday.

If Matsui passes his physical, he will join Triple-A Colorado Springs, MLB.com said. The Rockies have yet to make an official announcement.

He hit only .141 with no homers and one RBI in 27 games in 2010, his third season with the Astros.