Ryan Mattheus doesn’t consider himself much of a mechanics guy; he relies on the feel of pitching and examines his approach against hitters. In the midst of the worst season of his career — a 7.27 ERA over 26 innings — he doesn’t believe there are any glaring issues with his mechanics. “Some little things here and some little things there,” he said. But during a video session with pitching coach Steve McCatty and fellow reliever Drew Storen on Sunday, the three found a minor glitch to correct.
Mattheus will attempt to shorten his stride on the mound so that he can get more on top of the ball during this delivery. He hopes it will allow him to get the ball lower in the strike zone, which has escaped him much of his injury-shortened season.
“It’s not necessarily raising my arm but letting my arm work,” he said. “I think I’m forcing things right now. When they’re not forced, I think things are going to be better.”
The Nationals optioned Mattheus to Class AAA Syracuse in mid-August because he was struggling. His stuff wasn’t sharp, and Mattheus admits it still isn’t. He missed 58 games this season with a broken right hand, his own fault for punching a locker in May. (“There was a lot of time off,” he said. “I’m not sharp.”) Even his sinker, his best pitch, has failed him this season; opponents are hitting .372 off it this season compared to .225 last season.
“Offspeed pitches have never really been my strength,” he said. “It’s something I work on constantly to try and keep them consistent. I’ve lived and died with sinkers down in the zone and I’m just leaving too many balls up in the zone right now. I think once I start pitching down in the zone and start attacking down in the strike zone it’s going to change and it’ll get a lot better.”
Just as much as minor mechanical tweaks, if not more, Mattheus believes his struggles on the mound are related to his approach. Last season, in which he posted a 2.85 ERA over 66 1/3 innings, Mattheus threw a first-pitch strike 59 percent of the time. This season, that number has dropped to 55 percent. He fell behind to 3-0 counts only 19 times last season. In less than half the innings this season, he’s done that 10 times already.
“I have to be aggressive in the strike zone,” he said. “I have to go, ‘Here’s strike one. Here’s strike two. Here’s strike three. You do what you want with it.’ I just need to get back to what I was doing previous years, getting strike one and strike two and letting the hitter get himself out. I need to make better pitches down in the zone.”