Thirty-one days remain until pitchers and catchers enter the gates on Old Coachman Road, with actual nine inning games starting just 13 days after that. The calendar says we’re 2 1/2 months away from the beginning of the regular season, but who cares; it’s never too early to prognosticate.
As the winter slowly moves forward, there are a few things we know are certain. Brad Lidge will miss part of Spring Training due to knee surgery, the bullpen is a shell of its former self, and a few youngsters will be called upon to solidify a unit that was mediocre a year ago.
With all of that said, power right handed reliever Scott Mathieson could prove to be an integral part of the pen in ’10. If you’ve followed him, you know about the 96 mph fastball, but you’ve also heard about the two Tommy John surgeries. His elbow has apparently healed quite nicely, which is easy to detect once you skim his stats from last season.
Mathieson appeared in 22 games last year through three levels of the minor leagues, but hardly missed a beat. He finished 4-0 between the Gulf Coast League, Clearwater, and Reading, allowing just three earned runs over 32 1/3 innings. At 25-years-old, and after two major setbacks, the time could very well be now for the flamethrower.
Currently, there are three empty slots in the Phillies 2010 bullpen, plus with Lidge’s newest knee clean out, there may be a fourth when the season opens in D.C. No more Condrey, Myers, Park, or Eyre. It’s shaping up to be a completely different crew, but one that can still be potent if all goes well. Mathieson may be inserted into one of the vacancies, and rightfully so. The Phillies have little money left to spend with arbitration cases looming, so the team must take a good, hard look at the youth in the pipeline. Along with Matheison, Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona, and several others have a shot at a spot. To me, Mathieson provides the most intrigue.
If he can harness his power, come up with solid secondary pitches to compliment his velocity, and prove he belongs when spring begins, we may have the makings of a capable middle reliever. Hard throwers that can mix and match their fastball with other pitches are rare. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, Mathieson has added a changeup this winter, a great eye-altering alternative to his high-90′s heater. The kid must be chomping at the bit as well, having missed two full seasons due to injury.
Mathieson’s control is an obstacle that bears watching once March 3 rolls around. He walked 12 batters in his 32 1/3 innings, yet still completed his season with a 0.88 WHIP . Batters managed just 17 total hits during his 22 games, a .149 average. That tells you when he is hitting his spots, hitters can’t touch him. However, he’s clearly allowing too many free passes, which is often the case when a pitcher has that kind of arm speed.
By all accounts, Mathieson is a hard-working, likable person, which makes you want to root for the guy even more. It would certainly be a boon for the bullpen should he land in one of the remaining positions. The Phillies need to build trust in their young arms, and with Mathieson and the others on the cusp, and with the bullpen in shambles, there is no better time than now.
Here’s to his long and winding road to back to full health, and hopefully, the major leagues. Just 44 days until we see what Scott Mathieson really has in that cannon arm.