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Matsumoto's return gives Yomiuri a leg up

by Jim Allen (Jul 3, 2010)

Tetsuya Matsumoto is back in business.

The Giants' speedy center fielder and No. 2 hitter returned to the Yomiuri lineup on Friday for the first time in two months.

"I feel good, I feel ready," he said at Tokyo Dome before the first of three games against the Hanshin Tigers. "I'm excited to be back. It's like Opening Day."

Matsumoto, who had scored 29 runs in the Giants' first 31 games, injured his left thigh running to first base in a April 25 game here against the Hiroshima Carp and was deactivated the following day.

Although he took part in a workout with the big club in May, Matsumoto was sent back to the team's minor league facility for more rehabilitation. On Tuesday, he played his first farm game in a month and was pronounced fit.

"Batting, running, fielding, there was no problem," he said. "I wasn't worried in the slightest. I could go all out."

Matsumoto said he might have been able to come back sooner.

"Maybe," he said, "but the most important thing was for my leg to be 100 percent. I'm satisfied that it is."

During his downtime, Matsumoto has had to watch the action from a distance.

"When the game would come on [TV], I really didn't want to watch," he said.

"But to make sure I was ready when my time came, I had to watch. I didn't enjoy it, though."

Matsumoto was batting .423 with 12 steals when he was hurt. At that point the club was 17-8. Since then, the Giants have continued to charge ahead, going 27-20.

"The team has played well, but I haven't been a part of it. That sense of distance was difficult."

It ended when the Giants activated him for Friday's game.

Asked what message manager Tatsunori Hara had for him, Matsumoto said: "Welcome back."

"He told me about 2 p.m. that I would be starting," he said.

When telling reporters Matsumoto would be in the lineup, the skipper had a joke at the expense of last year's top Central League rookie.

"In most businesses, if you don't go to work for two months, you'd be out of a job," Hara said. "I guess our world is a little different."

The Giants entered this weekend's three-game series with a four-game lead over the second-place Tigers, whom they haven't played since May 2. The Tigers had won six of the teams' first nine meetings this season.

"It seems like our first game of the year against them," Hara said. "It's been almost three months since they were last here [at Tokyo Dome].

"Of course, they don't have any players we haven't seen. We know who they've got. They know who we've got.

"It's just going to be a knockdown-drag-out fight--the way it should be."

Although any Giants-Tigers series promises fireworks, this weekend's games showcase the CL's three hottest home run hitters: The Giants' Alex Ramirez and Shinnosuke Abe, and Craig Brazell of the Tigers. The three entered Friday's game tied for the Japan lead with 26 homers.

Abe had hit four homers in previous five games, while Ramirez and Brazell each had a three-homer game on Tuesday.

Abe had arguably the best month of his career, hitting .375 with 14 longballs in June.


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