It was only three years ago that Scott Mathieson was one of the prized young arms coming up through the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. After making the jump from Double-A Reading to the big leagues in 2006, many believed he would team with Cole Hamels to give a young 1-2 punch in the rotation. However in 2009, Mathieson finished up the season back in Reading and with a trip to the Arizona Fall League, this time as a reliever. The 17th round draft pick in 2002 had a solid comeback season in 2009. He was 4-0 with a 0.84 ERA in 22 games (32.1 IP) with 2 saves, 34 strikeouts (12 walks), and a .149 opponent batting average. Despite one bad outing in the AFL (1 IP, 3H, 3R, 2HR), his numbers are solid: 3.09 ERA, 10 G, 11.2 IP, 8BB/13K, and a .225 opponent batting average.
What happened between his big league debut and now is a pitcher’s worst nightmare. On June 17, 2006, Mathieson made his major league baseball debut against the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He described his ML debut to me: “It was a dream come true. I was in Erie, PA with the AA Reading team when I got told I was going to Philadelphia to make a start. I remember going to the gym that morning and coming back to the hotel and having 5 or 6 missed calls from my pitching coach Tom Filer. I was worried that I missed a meeting or something and was going to be in trouble. I called him back and he asked me if my roommate and I were in the room. I said yes and he told me to stay put and that he was coming up. So my mind was racing trying to figure out what I did wrong and to come up with a way out of whatever I was about to get in trouble for. He then knocked and came into the room.
I was sitting on the bed and he told me that the Phillies needed a starter for their Saturday game versus the Devil Rays and I was going to make that start. I was in shock and gave him a hug and he told me I had an hour before I had to head to the airport. So I jumped into the shower and remember tearing up and almost being in shock. After I showered I packed and called my dad, wanting him to be the first person I told. It was around 5am back in Aldergrove, BC, so it took about ten times calling him before I got him to pick up. I then called my girlfriend (now wife) and then her parents. Saturday (the day I was starting), I was the first person to the stadium and I just walked around for awhile. When I took the mound, I remember throwing the first pitch about 55 feet and then I stepped off the mound and though to myself (even though I barely got the ball to the plate) ‘I’m now a major leaguer’. I put my game face on and went back to pitching. I had a tough first inning but after that, everything went well and I pitched 6 innings that day. I took the loss but felt like I could pitch there and couldn’t wait to make my next start.”
On September 2nd at home against the Atlanta Braves, the nightmare began. I remember being at the game and watching him throw in the first inning—something wasn’t right. It was the second time I had seen a pitcher blow out his elbow in person. It gives you a queasy feeling in your stomach. Mathieson had Tommy John surgery on his elbow later in the month. Almost a year later, he was still having elbow problems so he underwent an ulnar nerve transposition. However in May of 2008, Mathieson underwent a second Tommy John surgery, where the recovery rate is just 30%. As of right now, Mathieson is on the right track towards the recovery rate and getting back to where he was three years ago. Newly added to the Phillies 40-man roster and considered by Baseball America to have the best fastball in the organization, Mathieson took time out in the AFL to answer some of my questions.
What was it like finally pitching competitively for an entire season and being healthy again?
It was a great feeling to finally get back out there and not just pitch again but pitch with some success. Baseball was finally fun again. Sitting on the outside was very hard for me. Having to watch and not be able to play the game that I love.
What was it like returning to Reading and pitching in front of their fans?
Reading was a lot of fun. I had a great time in 2006 pitching there. I think this year I enjoyed it even more. Reading is a great place to play. Every player that I know that has played there talks about how great the fan support is. I really enjoyed pitching in the back end of the bullpen there with all of the support.
How would you rate your 2009 season?
I believe that my 2009 season has been a huge success. I went into this year just wanting to be able to pitch healthy and pain free at some point. Having the chance to pitch in Reading and being a part of a team going to the playoffs was a lot of fun and being able to prove to myself and hopefully the Phillies that I’m healthy and I can pitch again.
How would you rate your pitches now after surgery?
I believe that my fastball is back or very close to being back to where it was. My velocity is back up to where it was before the surgery. I believe that my changeup is better than before surgery just because that was the one pitch that I was allowed to throw early in my rehab and so I would throw it everyday in long toss and got a lot of work in on it. I had trouble with my slider this year and was babying it when I first came back. I’ve been working with our pitching coach Bob out here in the fall league a lot. He’s got me staying on top of it and throwing it a bit harder. Right now I’m throwing around 85 mph and would like to increase it by a couple mph by the time spring training comes around.
Do you see yourself strictly now as a reliever or do you think you can still be a starter?
I still believe that I could start, but I’m starting to really like pitching out of the bullpen. I believe that I’ll be in the bullpen from now on out.
What things are you working on in the AFL?
I’ve been working on my slider a lot out here. Almost everyday I work with our pitching coach on it. I’m starting to feel a lot better and more confident with it now.
What have your experiences been like in your second time in the AFL?
The first time I was out here I was in awe of getting to play in the fall league. My dad took me to see a fall league game when I was may be 10 or 11 and I remember him telling me that those guys out there were some of the best minor league players and future major league stars.
In 2005, it really helped me make the transition to AA and then onto the major leagues. This year I looked at it as a way to get more innings and to prove that I can pitch again and hopefully get back to the major leagues. This year out here, I have really tried to watch and learn from some of the pitchers on our team, since this is the first year that I have pitched out of the bullpen.
Who has been the toughest hitter for you to face so far in the AFL?
I’m not sure who the toughest hitter I’ve faced out here is because everyone is good here. It seems like every time I look up there’s a future all-star up to bat. This league is a great league and if you want to see some future all-stars, gold glovers, and hall of famers, you have to come out.
What has been your favorite ballpark to pitch in?
Major leagues, I would have to say in Philly because it was where I pitched my first major league game and my dad, my sister, and my wife’s family were able to come and watch me there. I also really liked pitching in St. Louis. They have a beautiful stadium there and I got my first win there. To top it off, my wife’s parents had a trip planned to go there and see the stadium and it just so happened that I got called up and was starting there.
Since I have never been to Arizona (and maybe some of the readers haven’t been either) I asked Scott if he had gotten a chance to check out Scottsdale. What are any of your favorite spots or places to eat?
The Breakfast Club on Scottsdale Rd. is very good and a lot of players eat there. I have also really enjoyed hiking Camel Back Mountain, but make sure you bring lots of water with you. My roommate Mike Cisco and I did it the first week we got here and brought lots of water and Gatorade, but forgot it in the car. About 20 minutes up we looked at each other and said ‘what the heck are we doing’. It was a lot harder than we thought it would be, plus it was about 95 out. But it’s a great workout and well worth the hike when you get to the top.
Where do you see yourself in 2010, especially after being added to the Phillies 40-man roster?
I see myself pitching healthy in a bullpen somewhere next year. Next year I really hope I can give a good showing in spring training and at some point in the year, help the Phillies out.
The Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro talked this offseason about looking for help at third base and in the bullpen. Scott Mathieson is hoping to help the Phillies in the bullpen in 2010.