"He's going to be out a while," Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after an 8-0 loss to the Giants in San Francisco on May 20th in AT&T Park. "It's a broken bone in your pitching hand. That's going to be out a while." He was talking about Ryan Mattheus, the Nats' 29-year-old reliever, who had broken a bone in his hand the night before in San Diego's Petco Park.
In his fourteenth appearance of the season, Mattheus had given up a leadoff single in the Padres' seventh. Mattheus was then called for a balk. He gave up two walks, a bases-loaded sac fly, RBI single, two-run line drive and and an RBI double in the next six at bats in what ended up being a four hit, five run, 39-pitch home half inning in Petco Park.
The Nats' right-handed reliever returned to the visitor's clubhouse after the game and as Johnson explained it, slammed his glove into his locker with his right hand.
"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," Johnson explained. "And he didn't say anything to anybody. 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." The Nationals' 70-year-old manager noted twice while he talked that the pitcher compounded the problem by not telling the team and leaving them short-handed.
"We had several little conversations, Ryan and I did," Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kusher and Danny Rouhier less than a week after the incident. "And he knows my position with no uncertain terms. But again, he's one of us. He's one of our guys," Rizzo said, reiterating what he'd said previously in the interview about being a close-knit team.
"We support our players," the Nats' GM continued. "He's a guy that's extremely emotional and cares an extreme amount about this club and was very [not] pleased with his outing, but you certainly can't negatively impact your team by punching a locker and breaking a hand and now we have to play shorthanded."
Mattheus went on the DL with a 4.96 ERA, five walks and 12 Ks in the first 16 1/3 innings he pitched in 2013, over which opposing hitters had a .294/.342/.364 line. He went on the DL after the May 19th appearance and didn't return to the mound in the majors until July 26th.
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 rough stretch which led to the right-hander being sent down to Triple-A Syracuse. In his last outing before he was sent down, Mattheus came on with one out in the eighth inning of a game in which the Nationals had a 6-2 lead over the Giants. Back-to-back singles and a two-run double followed before Mattheus was lifted for Tyler Clippard without having recorded an out.
Davey Johnson told reporters he had talked to pitching coach Steve McCatty about being concerned about bringing Mattheus on. "I had a bad feeling when I brought Mattheus in," Johson said. "I was thinking -- I told McCatty, 'I'm going to have to get Clipp up, I've just got a bad feeling.' Well he said, 'Let's wait a hitter.' And BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It was almost too late." The Nationals won the game, 6-5 over the Giants, but Mattheus was sent out to make room for the returning Drew Storen the next day.
Mattheus returned to the majors in late August and finished his third season in D.C. with a 6.37 ERA, 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, up from .241/.300/.409 in 66 1/3 IP in 2012 and .228/.326/.298 line in 32 IP in 2011.
One of the right-handers counted on early to get left-handers out before the Nationals reconfigured their bullpen, Mattheus went from a .241/.313/.471 line in 99 plate appearances against left-handers in 2012 to a .438/.486/.516 line vs LHB in 70 PAs 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 in 2013.
The soon-to-turn 30-year-old reliever told MASNSports.com's Dan Kolko in late-season interview that he felt he was going to have to win a job in the Nationals' 2014 bullpen after his disappointing campaign. Mattheus was a 25-year-old reliever in the Rockies' system when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The Nats acquired Mattheus along with right-hander Robinson Fabian in a 2-for-1 deal that sent LHP Joe Beimel to Colorado in July 2009 with the Nationals' GM telling reporters including MLB.com's Bill Ladson at the time that in spite of the injury, "He's worth the risk."
The Nationals took a chance on Mattheus' potential when they acquired him and trusted they could get him back on the mound after Tommy John surgery. The injury in 2013 was self-inflicted. Mattheus will have a lot to prove in 2014.
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