Ryan Mattheus feels strong after facing hitters for first time this spring

Ryan Mattheus. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Ryan Mattheus. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ryan Mattheus hasn’t faced any hitters since Sept. 29, the final appearance of a frustrating season in which he posted a 6.37 ERA and missed two months with a self-inflicted broken hand. But while in spring training, ready to win back his old spot in the bullpen, Mattheus felt chest discomfort, diagnosed as  costochondritis, and missed three weeks of pitching off the mound.

On Monday, Mattheus finally returned to a mound to face hitters. Adam LaRoche, Jose Lobaton and Anthony Rendon stepped into the batters box against Mattheus at Space Coast Stadium. Mattheus fired all of his pitches — sinker, splitter and slider — and all of it felt “really good.”

“It was awesome,” he said of facing hitters. “Coming off a rough season, I kind came into camp champing at the bit just to get out there. And to have the setback early in camp, so that was kinda salt in the wound. So I’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. Then, it was even better when the ball came out good and my command was really good. Everything was down.”

Opening day is two weeks away and Mattheus now has the ticking clock to fight. Only nine games remain on the spring training schedule, not including the exhibition game in Washington against the Detroit Tigers on March 29. He was a key member of the division-winning bullpen in 2012 with a 2.85 ERA but took a step back last season.

Most late-inning relievers on the team will throw between eight and 10 innings this spring to be ready for the season. The most Mattheus could get is six innings if he fired one inning every other day. Mattheus said he has an idea of how much he needs to get ready for the season, but will leave it up to the team, which has spring training plans for pitchers.

Unlike when he first began his throwing program and playing catch, Mattheus said the discomfort is completely gone from his chest now. The question now is whether he has the stamina to compete for a bullpen spot. But if he isn’t ready for opening day, he hopes to be not long afterward.

“I want to contribute down the stretch,” he said. “They’re smart, too. They don’t want to push something and we miss six months, instead of missing another week. They’re not going to push me beyond what I can handle. And if I’m ready, I make it. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world and I’ll sure I’ll contribute at some point.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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James Wagner · March 17, 2014

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