By Craig Heist
Former Oriole Luis Matos is trying to get his career back on track with the Washington Nationals. To this point, his is a career that has been one of underachievment and injury, and in most cases one has led to the other.
"It's a fresh start with a new team," Matos said. "It's like going to school all over again. It's like the first day or something. It's my first time changing teams because I have been with the Orioles my whole career."
|Luis Matos is batting .286 with the Washington Nationals this season.|
Matos cracked the big leagues in June of 2000 and proceeded to go 0-for-15 before getting his first major league hit off David Wells. He went on to hit .246 for the season.
Matos dislocated his left shoulder in spring training of 2001 and missed all but 31 games after undergoing surgery to repair it. In 2002 a hand injury forced him to miss the first two months of the season. Matos went back and forth between rehab appearances, in the end playing just 17 games.
Matos considers his break-out year 2003. He hit .303 in 109 games with 13 home runs and 45 RBIs. But again, the injury bug struck in 2004. Matos played in 89 games, but none after July due to a stress fracture in his right shin, something he had been playing with since spring training.
Last season Matos came back, hitting .280 in 121 games, but he still had a stint on the disabled list with a broken right ring finger suffered in a bunt attempt. Despite the decent average, his power numbers were less than acceptable with four homers and just 32 RBIs.
The pattern was disturbing but the Orioles stuck with Matos and he knows it.
"They gave me the chance in 2000, and with all the freak injuries I had, they were patient with me," he said. "On the other hand, I don't think they gave me a fair chance this year. They didn't give me a chance to play four or five days in a row like I used to. I am not coming off my best year, but I hit .280 last year so I thought I was going to get more playing time, but it didn't happen so it was time to move on."
Matos' playing time was reduced this season because Corey Patterson emerged as the everyday center fielder and David Newhan was playing well before he got hurt.
"Baltimore was going in a different direction, and it was time for me to move on," Matos said. "I am here now with new ownership, new GM and everything. I just have to do my job so they can see I can play every day."
But that won't be easy. Heading into this week, Alfonso Soriano is the Nationals' left fielder, though he is expected to be traded before the deadline. Jose Guillen is on the disabled list and Ryan Church was just recalled from Triple-A New Orleans. If the club hangs on to Guillen, newly-acquired Austin Kearns will play centerfield for the majority of the season.
A logjam of outfielders to be sure.
"Yeah, there are a lot of outfielders but you can wait a bit," Matos said. "There are a lot of trade rumors now. I need to be patient and wait for my chance, because I know I can still play here, so that's what I am waiting for."
Matos is only 27 years old and said his best years are still ahead of him.
"I just need to stay healthy and have another chance," he said. "I see guys like Gary Matthews jumping around how many years? He's been waivered how many times? He was waivered from the Cubs, San Diego, Baltimore and now he's made the All-Star game. So you know, I look at myself as a five-tool player and I can do it, but I have to stay healthy. If I don't stay healthy, it's going to be hard."
He now has a chance to prove himself again and latching on with another team quickly was very important.
"I know guys who waited for a long time," Matos said. "Tony Batista is still waiting for a team to pick him up. I got some interest from a few teams but I decided to come here because it's close to my house up in Baltimore."
And Matos has one very important reason to stay close to his home in Charm City.
"My wife is pregnant so that was a part of it," Matos said. "It's going to be fun. It's my first baby and it's going to be fun."
If Matos has the desire to stay in D.C. and play for the Nats, he said he knows the rest of this season is very important to him.
"I just need to finish strong and healthy and leave a good impression on them so when they look in the off-season at the direction they are going, they think about me."
Issue 1.14: July 27, 2006