Mathieson out to prove he belongs in Phillies bullpen


Thursday, February 24, 2011
Posted: 5:44 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury

CLEARWATER, Fla.Right-handed relief pitching is an area of depth in the upper levels of the Phillies minor league system. That is one of the reasons that the Phils were not aggressive in trying to re-sign Chad Durbin this winter. In short, Phils officials believe they may have some less expensive internal options to fill the role that Durbin performed well in the last three seasons.

Scott Mathieson could be one of those options. At 27, he has been in the organization since 2002. If hes ever going to crack through and be a consistent contributor for the Phils at the big-league level, this might be his best chance.

He knows it.

Its up to me now, Mathieson said. If I fail, its my fault.

Mathieson began his audition for a spot in the majors with a solid inning of relief in the Phillies 8-0 exhibition win over Florida State University on Thursday. Mathieson struck out two, walked a batter and got the final out of the game on a pop out.

Once upon a time, Mathieson was a golden prospect in the Phillies system. His power arm carried him to the majors in 2006, but he spent most of the next three seasons on the sidelines recovering from a pair of elbow reconstruction (Tommy John) surgeries.

The elbow injuries forced Mathieson to convert from starter to reliever. His career got back on track last season when he spent most of the year at Triple A Lehigh Valley and converted 26 of 30 save chances in his first year as a closer. Mathieson had a 2.80 ERA and struck out 83 while walking 24 in 64 13 innings. He was named winner of the Paul Owens award as top pitcher in the Phils minor-league system.

Though Mathieson fantasizes about someday getting another chance to start, he likes working in relief, likes the intensity of it, and would relish the chance to pitch in this bullpen. Jobs openings are scarcethere might be one or two depending if the team uses 11 or 12 pitchersbut there could be a place for him if he gets outs.

Durbin was valuable because he could pitch multiple innings. Mathieson pitched two innings 13 times last season, so that could help his chances of making this club.

Its to the point now where I want to be a big-league pitcher, Mathieson said. I want to be in the big leagues, hopefully with the Phillies. If not, there are 29 other teams.

Mathieson might be the hardest thrower in the Phillies organization. He hit 101 miles per hour on Lehigh Valleys team radar gun last September.

But a fastball alone wont get him to the big leagues. Major league hitters are wired for heat. A successful pitcher must vary his looks, locate and change speeds. That is the challenge for Mathieson.

Obviously I have a lot of confidence in my fastball, Mathieson said. Its back after surgery and then some. I need to prove I can get outs with my secondary pitches and prove Im good enough to pitch here.

Id be happy throwing 95 or 96 and locating it well. A hundred miles an hour straight down the middle just leaves the ballpark that much faster.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee concurred.

His secondary pitches will determine how far he goes, Dubee said.

In an effort to come up with a consistent off-speed pitch, Mathieson began learning the splitter last season. Lehigh Valley pitching coach Rod Nichols taught him the pitch and the Phillies hired Hall of Fame splitter pioneer Bruce Sutter to tutor Mathieson late in the season. Mathieson believes he also made strides with his slider last season.

I felt like I did well with both pitches last year, he said. The slider was a big pitch for me. Now is the time to show it. I need to prove it here.

Mathieson used his splitter several times in closing out Thursdays game. He got a strikeout on one of them.

The strikeout was a very good one, Dubee said. He also threw a couple that werent so good. That pitch is a work in progress.

Mathieson still has a minor-league option remaining, so he can be sent to the minors if he doesnt make the club this spring. If he goes back to Triple A, he will likely be used as a closer once again. Last year, was his first season in the role and he enjoyed it immensely. He credits Nichols, who spent parts of seven seasons in the majors, with helping him learn the mindset of a closer.

Rod always stressed that youre coming in with a lead and all the pressure is on the hitters, Mathieson said. Theyre behind in the game. Relax and execute pitches.

Mathieson will take that approach into this pivotal spring camp.

I think Im ready to be here, he said. Now I have to go earn it.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at

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