- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2011

TEMPE, ARIZ. (AP) - Jeff Mathis had a 10-game hitting streak during the first month of last season and was batting .324 heading into April 19.

Then the Los Angeles Angels catcher broke his right wrist blocking a Kevin Jepsen breaking pitch in the dirt.

After he returned nine weeks later, his batting average dipped until he wound up at .195 _ lowing his career average to .199.

“Sure, it’s been frustrating,” he said. “But that’s baseball.”

Mathis, known for superior defensive, is expected to be the Angels’ opening-day catcher _ unless prospect Hank Conger dazzles or backup Bobby Wilson impresses following a 33-pound offseason weight loss.

“I’ve never come in here expecting to be the No. 1 catcher,” said Mathis, who turns 28 next month. “There are always going to be guys trying to take your job.”

Angels manager Mike Scioscia hopes to see the return of a hot-hitting Mathis _ who had eight hits in 15 at-bats bat from last April, or the one from the previous postseason when Mathis had eight hits in 15 at-bats during the 2009 AL playoffs.

“At the beginning of the year, I think we saw him more confident in the batter’s box than we’ve seen,” Scioscia said. “On the offensive side it was a miserable struggle for him as the season went on.”

Especially in August when Mathis slumped to a .115 average in 51 at-bats.

“In the playoffs he’s hit terrific pitching and was really a force,” Scioscia said. “He had a nice simple swing when he started the (2010) season, and he tried to pick that up when he came back and obviously lost some components to it from not only a timing aspect but from a technical aspect.”

A two-time All-Star during a 13-year catching career in the major leagues, Scioscia has favored defense. Among the Angels prospects is defensive standout Peter Bourjos, a career .293 hitter in five minor league seasons who had a .204 average in 118 at-bats last season with the Angels. He is slated to start in center field.

It’s also possible that Brandon Wood could win the third-base job. He enters the season with a .169 career batting average in 450 at-bats.

Would Scioscia become more geared toward a catcher with a little more pop in his bat?

Jeff played because he was, at times, the clear-cut choice on the defensive end,” Scioscia said, recalling when Mathis shared catching time with Mike Napoli, since traded away. “When you have options on the defensive end at that position and all three are at a proficient level defensively and you’re confident with (them), obviously you’re going to go with the best offensive option. But that could vary from day to day.”

NOTES: Scioscia said Wood had been cleared to field bunts in practice as he recovers from a sore back. … The annual intrasquad game, usually held one day prior to the opening of the exhibition season, will not be played this year.

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