He punched a locker? "Last night after the game he came in and when he was in the locker room he banged his glove against his locker with his hand in it," Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters last May as he explained the regrettable incident which landed reliever Ryan Mattheus on the DL with a broken bone in his right (pitching) hand. "He didn't say anything to anybody," Johnson continued. "His hand didn't swell up, but when he went out to throw today his hand swelled up and he couldn't throw the ball." Doctors then checked Mattheus' hand.
"It's a broken bone in your pitching hand," Johnson said when asked how long Mattheus would be out. "That's going to be out a while."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was clear that he was not happy with the situation and he said he expressed his feelings to Mattheus. "We had several little conversations, Ryan and I did," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kusher and Danny Rouhier, "and he knows my position with no uncertain terms."
The then-29-year-old reliever, who turned 30 this past November, went on the DL in mid-May with a 4.96 ERA, five walks and 12 Ks in 16 1/3 innings, over which opposing hitters had a .294/.342/.364 line against him. Mattheus was unavailable from May 19th until July 26th and in nine games and 6 2/3 IP after returning from the DL, Mattheus had a 9.45 ERA with opponents posting a .393/.514/.500 line over a particularly rough stretch which led to the right-hander being sent down to Triple-A Syracuse.
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Mattheus told reporters this weekend when he met with the press at NatsFest at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, that he compounded the mistake by overdoing it once he was back.
"I had this self-inflicted injury that was a pretty boneheaded move on my part," Mattheus admitted. "And I had to sit around for two months and watch my teammates try to get back in that thing, you know, and that's tough to swallow walking in that clubhouse every day and seeing guys working hard on winning ballgames and I was working hard trying to fix something that I did that wasn't very smart."
"Then when I came back I kind of wanted to fix it all at once," the reliever continued. "My first outing I was like, 'Well, I gotta let them know that I'm back and I've got to make up for this. So I was trying to make up for something I did instead of just doing my job. I was putting a lot more pressure on myself when I came back. Felt like I was in a position where I needed to do that when really I didn't. I just needed to go out and be myself and do what I had done in the past. So I'm going to get back to what I did to make me successful the first couple of years I was here."
What he did to be successful is fairly straightforward in Mattheus' mind. "I have a pretty simple repertoire," he said. "I throw a two-seam fastball, not much else. So I'm going to get back to pounded the strike zone, getting ahead early and going after guys. That's what I do best."
Mattheus returned to from the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate in late-August and finished his third major league campaign with a 6.37 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, 15 walks (3.82 BB/9) and 22 Ks (5.60 K/9) in 37 games and 35 1/3 IP over which opponents had a .351/.404/.426 line. That was, however, up from a 2.85 ERA, a 4.42 FIP and a .241/.300/.409 line over 66 1/3 IP in 2012 and a 2.81 ERA, 4.28 FIP and a .228/.326/.298 line in 32 IP for the Nats in 2011.
The right-hander struggled against left-handed hitters in 2013 too, going from a .241/.313/.471 line in 99 plate appearances against lefties in 2012 to a .438/.486/.516 line in 70 PAs vs lefties in 2013. A .240/.293/.373 line against right-handed hitters in 166 PAs in 2012 turned into a .286/.344/.357 line in 96 PAs last season. It's the kind of year the reliever said he'd rather put in the past and move on from.
"Once it was over, it was kind of like, 'That was a rough one,'" Mattheus said. "Then I took some time to evaluate it, see what went wrong, but now it's gone. I've learned from it. I've moved on. It's kind of like a fresh start now, I'm going to go in and have to compete for a job, but that's fine. In fact, I've competed for a job every year that I've been here. So I don't know it any other way. I'm really excited for Spring Training. I feel like I'm in a good spot and ready to come in and compete."
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