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Giants rookie At Home in Outfield

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FLUSHING, NY — Luis Matos in center field timed the ball with perfection that appeared to be going for extra bases. The Giants 21-year old rookie is known for his defensive skills in the outfield and hit the fence.

Tommy Pham, the Mets consistent hitter, was robbed of an extra base hit and Matos, (Valera, Truillo, Venezuela) in the second inning at Citi Field Saturday afternoon returned to the dugout. The Giants have become accustomed to Matos’ defensive gems.

The fourth-youngest player in the majors behind the Marlins’ Eury Perez (20), Braves’ AJ Smith-Shawver (20) and the Cardinals’ Jordan Walker (21) is known for covering a lot of territory in the outfield, so no surprise this was a play of the day.

But his limited time in the big leagues made this catch special, ranked as the Giants’ No. 3 prospect and 72nd overall, Matos made his MLB debut starting in center. And he has been contributing in the lineup, 10 runs scored through his first seven career games are most in team history.

Through a translator he said about the catch, “Got a good first jump; Was aware I got it high from the fence. It’s nothing. Having fun out there and showing what I can do on defense. Basically carrying on and focusing what I did in the minor leagues and doing it here.”

Matos has split time this year between AA and AAA, combining to hit .350 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs, 36 RBI, and 24 walks. He has been worth + Outs Above Average in center field according to Fangraphs and the Giants are giving this youngster a chance.

Every at bat, every catch in center, and Matos continues to make strides. The Giants will have that difficult task to make a roster spot when outfielder Mike Yastremski is ready to return from the injured list after nursing an injured left hamstring. Also, Matos got the starting role in New York because former Met Michael Conforto is day-to-day with an injured hamstring.

What matters, though, is Matos continuing to prove his worth. His Giants’ teammates have noticed the athleticism and ability to cover a lot of ground in center. Friday night in their 5-4 opening series 5-4 win, Matos also made two defensive grabs that saved some runs.

“Yeah, he has that ability to cover the outfield and we love him here,” said J.D. Davis after the Giants 4-1 loss Saturday.” Matos reached base off Mets starter Justin Verlander in the sixth inning, a cutter that was hit hard to center.

The Giants are currently in position for the third and final NL Wild Card by a half game and in June went 18-8, tied for third best winning percentage in the Majors. Matos is still adapting to the big league environment. He studies the pitches and talked about Verlander.

Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

“Back when I used to play video games, I was Justin Verlander,” he said with a smile. “Who would have ever thought that I was going to face him in real life?” And Sunday evening in the series finale, Matos is expected to once again be in the lineup and slotted in the 9th position for manager Gabe Kapler.

“Has all the tools to stay here,” Kapler commented about Matos. “That catch in center could have put us in a bad jam and Luis went after it. He has that ability to go after balls like that.”

Matos said catches in the outfield are a part of his repertoire. He developed that confidence more as a 2019 DSL Mid-Season All-Star (DSL GIants) and in 2021 (Cal League Postseason All-Star San Jose.) He also is getting support from infielders Wilmer Flores and Thairo Estrada, both Venezuelan born and infielders with experience.

“Really good gaining confidence from them,” he said. “Of course they been talking to me and showing me the ropes.”

And day-by-day Luis Matos continues to show his call to the Big Show was a proper choice for the Giants.

Rich Mancuso: senior writer Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso.

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