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Mattheus healthy but likely out of time to make club

Mar 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

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VIERA, Fla. — After a long and frustrating 2013, Ryan Mattheus couldn’t wait to get back on the mound for the Nationals this spring. And then after a long and frustrating spring, the right-hander really couldn’t wait to finally make his 2014 debut yesterday at Space Coast Stadium.

The end result: a 1-2-3 inning of relief against the Tigers, not to mention no lingering issues with an upper chest strain that had kept Mattheus from pitching in a game until now.

“It was great,” he said. “Just to get out there after the long season, tough season, the offseason felt longer than normal. Then I had the setback with the chest thing. So it just felt good to be back out there.”

Mattheus was far from 100 percent sharp in his first appearance of the year. He gave up a pair of rockets that happened to be hit directly at fielders before then notching a strikeout to close out his one inning of work. But at this point, results were less important to the 30-year-old.

“I mean, I overthrew it,” he admitted. But I could’ve told you I was going to do that from the get-go. I got good work in. I just wanted to get back out there and feel what it’s like to be on the mound again.”

Mattheus is one of six relievers remaining in camp battling for one available spot in the Opening Day bullpen, joining fellow right-handers Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinin, lefties Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez and perhaps Tanner Roark (if he doesn’t win the No. 5 starter’s job). His experience would seem to be an advantage, but right now his biggest enemy is the calendar.

With only seven Grapefruit League games left on the schedule before the Nationals head north, Mattheus simply may not have enough time to build up enough innings in preparation for Opening Day.

“It’s going to be hard,” manager Matt Williams said. “You look at the back end of your bullpen guys, and you look at them to have 8-ish [appearances] at least in spring. And he just simply hasn’t been able to do that. It’ll be hard for him to get going. We want to push him as much as he can be pushed between now til the end, but it’s going to be very difficult for him to get that many.”

Mattheus understands the situation and is prepared to open the season at Class AAA Syracuse if needed.

“He’s the manager of the ballclub, and if he’s not comfortable with me being out there, that’s his call,” the reliever said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get ready. I think I’ll make it, if I get enough games here. But if I don’t, I’ll have to go [to the minors] to get my work. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

  1. Joe Seamhead - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    I hope for the team’s sake that he can regain his 2012 form and success rate, but I will always refer to him as “that knucklehead.”

  2. TimDz - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:39 AM

    I don’t recall hearing about any pitchers having “dead arm” this season….
    Seemed that, back in the Marquis era, that term came up about midway through Spring Training…
    Are these pitchers in better condition, or just better pitchers who don’t need the manager to come up with some lame-ass excuses?

    • ArVAFan - Mar 21, 2014 at 6:55 AM

      We definitely had a couple of episodes of dead arm last Spring Training (Haren & Zimmermann if I recall correctly). I was wondering the same thing–or did they just get lucky and the “dead arm” days happened on bullpen days rather than pitching days so we weren’t told about it?

    • NatsNut - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      I think Zimmermann allowed a hit in a game once. Maybe that was his dead arm. ;)

  3. ehay2k - Mar 21, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    Mattheus may not be happy about this (they never are when the say it’s the manager’s decision), but he will get over it. This looks like a case of doing right by the player’s career, as well as the season-long interests of the team, over the desire to make a guy happy and get him on the opening day roster. Feelings heal faster than arms.

  4. scnatsfan - Mar 21, 2014 at 8:36 AM

    I know it was a bonehead move – obviously – but this team needed more players to get upset last year. I’d rather that then a guy who sleepwalks to a horrible year.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 21, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    Mattheus was less than sparkling last season even prior to his sado-masochistic episode. Other than being kind I’m not sure I see a reason for the brain trust to keep him in the major league camp at this point. If there is a reason it is that there is a lack of bullpen depth I don’t think anyone saw coming — and it’s the reason all of the other guys Mark listed are still in camp as well. Do you really need another LH in the bullpen? Only if (unlikely) Cedeno or M. Gonzalez turned out to be superior to any of the surplus right-handers. Long term, Barrett and/or Treinen may turn out to be above average but right now the fact all of them are still in major league camp only speaks to the fact Rizzo and Williams are under-whelmed by the available choices.

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 21, 2014 at 9:15 AM

      I think they’re just keeping Mattheus and Mike G. around because they got a late start to ST, and Williams et al want a chance to see them at least a little in person, and not remotely from minor league camp.

      I don’t see where either has a genuine chance to make the OD roster.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 21, 2014 at 9:45 AM

      I think that these numbers are pretty good for our middle reliever, no?

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:10 AM

        Nice pull…would love to see him back in that kind of shape!

  6. cjeffjackson - Mar 21, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    Nate Silver on “When Spring Training Matters.” I’m not a stats geek myself, but I found this an informative read:

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/when-spring-training-matters/

  7. Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Interesting comments from Williams re: Espinosa:

    “But even though Espinosa doesn’t have a good batting average, manager Matt Williams likes Espinosa’s approach at the plate and his work ethic.

    ‘He is eager to play every day. It’s really hard to get him out of the ballgame, which is very good trait to have. Numbers are misleading both ways in Spring Training. I’m encouraged by the way he is going about it.'”

    That last one, in particular, makes me think it isn’t putting any more stock in Rendon’s BA than he is in Espinosa’s. Er, at least not publicly.

    Will be interesting to see who he starts today. Why do I have a funny feeling it will be Espi at SS and Rendon at 2B? Or, Espi at 2B, Rendon at 3B, and Zim at 1st?

    • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Oh, probably not the latter with Wainwright pitching…probably not the former, either, Williams just seems to be really letting these guys duke it out.

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      I’ll give him this: Williams already talks like an experienced big league manager–doesn’t criticize his players, finds encouraging things to say in public, even if it means pretending there is a competition when there isn’t.

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        I disagree that there’s no competition. If there were no competition, Rendon would’ve started the last two days, imo.

        But, obviously, this is just conjecture.

      • natinalsgo - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        Matty is going out of his way to compliment Espinosa. Haven’t heard him say much about Rendon except in his lineup he could bat #2.

        I think Rizzo sat Matty down after that interview to remind him there’s a competition at 2nd base. To prove his point Rizzo will name Espinosa the starter (I say that only partially joking because Rizzo goes to great effort to prove points).

        Process is great but as mentioned this was the Espinosa we saw Spring 2013.

      • Hiram Hover - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:39 AM

        Eric – They definitely want to get Danny some playing time and evaluate him, but the spot he’s competing for is on the bench, not starting 2B. That’s my conjecture, anyway.

        n-go: Funny about Rizzo. I’d be curious to know whether Williams is going out of his way to compliment these players–that is, whether he’s bringing them up himself, or whether he’s saying these things in response to questions he gets from reporters trying to suss out the bench and starting roster. Certainly, he says nice things when he asked about the guys who get cut and or demoted.

        Maybe he’s not getting asked about other players, including those who are locks to start (I don’t remember seeing many quotes about Ramos, Werth, etc. either).

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:45 AM

        Espi’s ST last year was like the polar opposite of this year:

        Higher SO rate, BA, OBP, and SLG, lower BB rate.

        So far, of course. We’ll see how he does through the rest of ST. His SO rate is climbing back up a bit, for instance.

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:48 AM

        “Certainly, he says nice things when he asked about the guys who get cut and or demoted.”

        Sure, but he also didn’t shy away from commenting on why Walters was sent down (needs to work on defense). I don’t get the sense that he fluffs people needlessly. In light of that, I don’t think he’s blowing smoke when praising Espi’s plate approach.

        But, again, who knows.

        As for Rizzo, I feel that I have literally nothing to go on regarding his thinking, so I’ll leave that to the experts ;)

    • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      More comments on the subject from Espi himself. He certainly does seem to have taken all of this to heart in a positive way.

      • Sonny G 10 - Mar 21, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        Sounded encouraging.

    • Jb - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:46 AM

      Don’t be surprised if Espi starts 40-50 games this year, most of them at second but some at short. He won’t be riding the pine.

  8. jd - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    Unless I am reading this completely wrong my take is that Rendon will be the every day 2nd baseman but Espinosa will get plenty of playing time because Williams will rest all of his regulars throughout the year and that’s not even taking injuries into account. The fact that Espinosa can play 2nd and SS equally well and the fact that Rendon can play 2nd and 3rd equally well plus the fact that Zim will play some games at 1st base easily leaves Espi with a super sub role and a couple of hundred at bats at least.

    I think Mc.Louth will spell Werth semi regularly and Hairston will play against most if not all lefties, Lobaton will likely catch 1 to 2 games a week. What that doesn’t do is leave many at bats for Tyler Moore (barring injury), yes I am assuming he will get the last spot on the bench.

  9. natinalsgo - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    Eric, there is a competition even if it’s a sham and it will remain a competition until a starter has been named. After Ghosts thoughts on the subject I’m getting nervous Rizzo could name Espi to prove his point and stick Espi 8th and hope for the best.

    • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      As I said in the thread above, I’ll leave insights into Rizzo’s thinking to the experts, as I feel I have literally nothing to go on in that regard; however, I will say that I would be surprised if Rizzo prioritizes anything more highly than proving he can build a team that wins it all. I suspect that’s the first bullet point in his job description and I suspect he isn’t looking to get fired.

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 21, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      Jamey C. at 2B today! OMG – they’re blowing this competition wide open!

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:03 AM

        Ha! Tricksy Williamses!

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        Whoa…I don’t even know WHAT to think after seeing that lineup…have Ramsey and Lozada ever even played with the major league club before?

      • natinalsgo - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        LMAO, I think Lobaton, McLouth, Espi, Hairston makes that coveted 5th spot wide open.

      • Eric - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:10 AM

        Hrm…interesting. Maybe sending Gio along with a lineup comprising mostly (if not entirely) back ups suggests the #2 slot is still up for grabs. Maybe Stras, Zinn, Fister, Roark, Jordan? Hrm…
        ;)

      • NatsNut - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        LOL

  10. chiefwj - Mar 21, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    I think Mattheus can’t be optioned out is because he’s recovering from an injury and the CBA prohibits demotions in such situations. If it weren’t spring training, he’d still be on the 15-day DL & maybe on a rehab assignment, which counts as service time plus someone on rehab is still drawing MLB pay.

  11. Joe Seamhead - Mar 21, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Eric Smeagol, you cracked me up!

    • Eric - Mar 22, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      :)

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