Relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus was asleep in Syracuse when the call, finally, woke him up. He was sleeping late. It was 10 a.m. and he did not notice the first three missed calls to his cell phone from Class AAA Syracuse Manager Randy Knorr. When Mattheus answered, Knorr told him to get out of bed, pack his things and head to the big leagues.
“It’s just like you would imagine,” Mattheus said. “It’s probably the best phone call I’d ever got.”
The call to the majors came as a sudden surprise, since there was no obvious need for a reliever before Cole Kimball’s injury. It came at the end of a winding path. Mattheus, 27, is in his eighth minor league season. In 2009, he underwent Tommy John surgery. “It definitely hasn’t been the smoothest sailing so far,” Matthues said.
Mattheus had become a legitimate prospect with the Rockies before they traded him to the Nationals for Joe Beimel in 2009, three walks after his surgery, right after his cast had been removed. The trade stunned him.
Mattheus pitched in 10 games last season, his first action since the surgery. This season, he has 28 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings, and he feels like he has never thrown the ball better, a function not only of renewed health. Before arm surgery, Mattheus pitched with a sore elbow and diminished velocity. The lessons from those outings stayed with him.
“It’s learning how to pitch when I didn’t have the arm strength,” Mattheus said. “I took a lot away from that. And now that it’s back, I think I’m better because of it.”
After the call from Knorr, Mattheus made his own satisfying phone calls. He told his mom and his dad. He grew up in Galt, Calif., and they made it to San Diego for the game along with a niece, nephew, sister and a coach from Sacramento City Junior College.
They made it on time. Flying across country, Mattheus’s flight landed in San Diego at 6:35 p.m. After fighting through rush hour traffic and trying to navigate a confused cabbie, Mattheus arrived at Petco Park at 7:30 p.m., almost a half hour after first pitch. Better late than never.