Big League Stew - MLB

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jeff Mathis(notes) spent his most of offseason hunting near his home in the Florida panhandle, bagging "some white tails" and taking aim at various fowl like, gulp, ducks.

The Angels catcher also got a chance to go back and look at his performance during last year's ALCS against New York, when he turned in an uncharacteristic great performance at the plate, instead of behind it.

Mathis, who earns his paycheck from the Halos as a defensive specialist, went 7-for-12 with five doubles against Yankees pitching. He also provided a memorable postseason moment when he hit an 11th-inning gapper to win Game 3 in Anaheim. 

If you think that Mathis took some confidence capital from that series, you're right. 

"It's funny, because I could see things we had been working on in those swings," Mathis said on Wednesday morning. "When you work on it in the cage, it's almost like you forget about it when you get to the plate. You have to let your muscle memory take over.

"But when you do go back and see yourself doing what you've been working on, it's a rewarding feeling. It's something you want to implant in your brain and keep on doing."

That's easier said than done for Mathis, who serves as the defensive yin to Mike Napoli's(notes) offensive yang on the Angels. His career slash line is .200/.277/.320 and even Mathis says he can recognize why his presence in late-inning games solicits cries for a pinch hitter.

"It's understandable with the numbers I've put up," he said. "It's something I've had to swallow and deal with. But it was good to be in there (against the Yankees) and show that you can compete ... It was nice to come through." 

Mathis said that he and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher identified a big problem late last season when they noticed he was pulling his head and not making contact on easily hittable pitches. That led to work on standing his ground in the batter's box against the pitch, which led to the nice postseason stretch. 

Mathis turns 27 this season and is reaching a point in his career where he'll have to add to his offensive arsenal if he wants to avoid being a journeyman platoon player for the rest of his career. 

But the improvement will have to be done while maintaining his defensive value. And when you consider that catchers have to put in just as much non-hitting work as pitchers when handling a staff and that a lot of at-bats will be taken by Napoli, there's a limited amount of time to fine tune his bat.  

"All through the minor leagues, it was really all about defense," Mathis said. "We probably do more catching stuff than we did hitting-wise, especially in spring training. But you have to get into the cage and get your work done. For me, it's all about getting in there, getting reps and then carrying what I've worked on over to games."

'Duk is in Arizona this week to finish Big League Stew's Desert Drive. Ride shotgun with him on Twitter — @bigleaguestew.

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