PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - You would be hard pressed to find a guy easier to root for than Phillies' righthander Scott Mathieson, who has spent the last several years overcoming a roster's worth of injury problems to get back to the big leagues with the Phillies.
Mathieson was a top Phillies prospect back in 2006 when he made his Major League debut. He pitched 37⅓ innings before being shut down with an elbow problem that eventually led to Tommy John surgery.
That's a huge setback for any pitcher, but unfortunately for Mathieson it was just his first career detour. In 2007 he would need an ulnar nerve procedure in that right elbow, and then his participation in the 2008 campaign was wiped out with a second Tommy John surgery.
"The first one was tough," he recalls. "The second one more frustrating, and the third one was the toughest. (It was) just mentally tough because you know what to expect but you don't know if it's going to work again. The first two didn't work, so it was very frustrating. Very tough, the whole process. It was quite a long rehab and thankfully everything worked out."
Hear Matt Leon's full interview with Scott Mathieson in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
As you can imagine, any one of those surgeries requires rigorous rehabilitation, so you can deduce what three of them means.
Mathieson says that during the long road back, there were some dark moments when he questioned what he was fighting for:
"There's definitely those times. Waking up every morning at six and for me it was a half an hour, 40-minute drive to the field every day to rehab, and those are long drives, doing tedious work, rehabbing every muscle but your elbow. It's tough. There were many days that it was really tough to make it all the way to the field. There were some days that I had to pull over and really take my time and think about why I am doing it. Fortunately, everything worked out and I have an opportunity that not many get so I have to make the most of it."
Mathieson was a starter before his injuries; now he is a reliever. He was the closer at AAA Lehigh Valley last year and finished with 26 saves which led to him being named an International League All-Star and the Paul Owens Award winner as the best pitcher in the Phillies' minor league system.
He says going from the rotation to the back end of the bullpen was a smooth transition for him.
"Coming back as a reliever, I only had to go out for one inning and worry about three, four hitters at the most. It wasn't a difficult transition for me. I was really worried about getting my pitches back and everything (after the surgeries), I wasn't worried about the role I was in at the time. And now I really like being in the bullpen -- I like getting the opportunity to pitch every day or pitch when they need it."
And Mathieson's pitches have come back. In his appearance in Thursday night's loss to the Rockies (see related story), he hit the mid-90s with his fastball and struck out three of the nine hitters he faced in two shutout innings.
He talks about how the Scott Mathieson on the mound circa 2006 differs from the Mathieson of today:
"I think I pitch a lot more now. I don't try to blow everybody away. I definitely use my secondary and third pitch a lot more. In '06 I was just real confident in my fastball and (I would) try and blow guys away and really go after guys and not think as much as I do now. Now it's more, 'I know what the guy does' -- go out there and try and pitch to him and get him out. Get him to get himself out sometimes."
Needless to say, Mathieson is savoring being healthy and being a Phillie.
"I feel like I belong here. I feel like this is where I want to be," he says.
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060
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