Scott Mathieson is a long-time Phillies pitching prospect that fans have grown familiar with for the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The right-handed Canadian, who was drafted by Philadelphia in the 17th round of the 2002 amateur draft, had his Major League career sidetracked due to serious injuries and is still battling his way back to the big time.
It took Mathieson, who went on the operating table three separate times for his pitching elbow, roughly four years to get back to being a true contender to earn a spot on the Phillies' Major League roster. As a starting pitcher, Mathieson broke into the Majors with the Phillies, at age 22, in 2006. However, his season was cut short when he required Tommy John surgery to repair ligament damage in his elbow. The following season, as Mathieson began rehab work, it was discovered he also needed an ulnar nerve transposition procedure. Then, in 2008, Mathieson had a second Tommy John surgery.
In 2009, Mathieson rehabbed and pitched a combined 22 games in relief at three levels of the Phillies' minor league system. He looked sharp, posting a 4-0 record with 2 saves, a 0.82 ERA and a .149 batting average against.
Mathieson was outstanding again in 2010 and was named the winner of the Paul Owens Award, an honor bestowed upon the top pitcher and the top position player in the Phillies' minor league system each season. As a member of the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Mathieson was named to the International League North Division All-star team. With the IronPigs, Mathieson posted a 3-6 record with a 2.80 ERA and 26 saves. His 83 strike outs in 64 1/3 innings were additionally impressive.
Upon receiving a call up to the big club in June last season, Mathieson did not stick around very long, finding himself designated for assignment after allowing 2 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in one appearance. Luckily for the Phillies, Mathieson cleared waivers and was reassigned back to Lehigh Valley. However, it did leave Mathieson feeling like perhaps he was not being given enough of a shot to stick around on the Major League roster.
"I'd be lying if I said (I didn't feel held down). I was definitely frustrated. I didn't make the best of my opportunity, while I was up there, and that bothered me more than anything."
It's obvious that the elbow issues have cost Mathieson, who will turn 27 years old this month, a great deal of time. However, he is clearly pitching better and faster than ever. Mathieson's fastball speed ranged in the low-to-mid-90's prior to the surgeries. These days he's regularly clocked in the high 90's and occasionally higher than that. His 83 strike outs in 64 1/3 innings in 2010 were a clear example of Mathieson's dominance.
Mathieson has a clear goal ahead, stating that he wishes to post those same numbers at the big league level.
Some individuals around baseball assert credit for success that recovering Tommy John patients have toward the surgery. Certain journalists, some coaches or even parents of many young players, who think that the surgery is advantageous to all pitchers, get under Mathieson's skin and he wants people to understand that advances to a hurler's performance are not guaranteed by the surgery and credit can be attributed to pitchers' own hard work.
"I've been lucky enough to be able to (add velocity after surgery). I don't believe that's typical. There's a lot of people out there saying that you throw harder after surgery and they're 100% wrong, in my mind. For most people that go through all the rehab, they're in the best shape they've been in (because) it's the hardest they've ever worked in their lives. And in my case, that's definitely true.
"I just feel like I'm in better shape than I was before. I had to become a lot smarter of a person and a pitcher, and have better mechanics and increase my extension and I think that has helped my velocity. And especially, now, being a reliever...I can let it all go for one or two innings," Mathieson said in an exclusive interview.
This off-season, Mathieson spent a considerable amount of time at the Phillies training complex in Clearwater, FL, working closely with Shawn Fcasni, the team's minor league conditioning coordinator, with a focus on building stamina and getting his body more lean. Mathieson feels this extra effort will increase his durability and improve his chances of holding down a big league job in the long run.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., speaking on various topics at last week's winter tour banquet in Lakewood, NJ, stated that the Phillies will be counting on their collection of minor league hurlers, including Mathieson, to contribute out of the bullpen this coming season.
"We need them to have impact for us. We're not going to be able to field 11 or 12 pitchers all year long. I think we averaged about 20 pitchers every year. So, somebody from the minor leagues is going to have to help us. They'll be able to make an impression and get a chance to pitch this spring. In particular, I'm curious to see Mathieson pitch," Amaro said.
Arriving back in Clearwater on Monday, following some time off in his native British Columbia, Mathieson is ready to show everyone that the competition he's likely to receive from other 25-man roster hopefuls won't distract him and that he rightfully belongs on the Phillies' roster.
"I'm coming off my best year ever in pro ball. I'm confident in all my stuff, I just need to bring that into camp. As far as the other guys, (I try to) compete against myself, not the other guys. I root for all those guys, some of them are my best friends in baseball. The better they do, the more they're going to raise (my) game. I'm always trying to compete against myself and push myself to the next level."
Working closely with established Major Leaguers in training camp is something that Mathieson has found to be beneficial for his progress. Last spring, Scott commissioned the assistance of long-time Phillies reliever Ryan Madson, who assisted Mathieson with his change up. The updated change up grip, that Mathieson adopted from Madson, became a go-to weapon in 2010 for him, especially against left-handed batters.
Despite being ranked on 2011 prospect rankings released by PhoulBallz.com and PhilliesNation.com, Mathieson no longer considers himself a prospect. Headed into spring training this year, the 6'3" 190-pounder is confident that a big league roster spot will be his.
"I definitely feel like I am going to make the team. And that's kind of the mindset I am going into (spring training) with. There are a lot of young guys coming up that are, kind of, more the prospects now. Now it's my turn to show that I need to stick in the Major Leagues and contribute there."
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