READING-Steadily, quietly, Reading's Scott Mathieson is developing into the ace of the R-Phils' pitching staff. The 6'3" right-hander is putting up impressive numbers as the 2006 season unfolds. As of last Thursday, the upbeat 22-year-old hurler had compiled a 6-2 record with a 3.01 ERA and was leading the Eastern League (EL) in innings pitched with 80 2/3 and in strikeouts with 92.
Always a power pitcher, Mathieson spent last year with the Clearwater Thrashers, Philadelphia's Single-A affiliate in the Florida State League, which had the league's worst record at 41-95. In 23 games with the Thrashers he went 3-8 with a 4.14 ERA and struck out 118 batters in 122 innings.
However, Philadelphia liked what it saw in the young right-hander whom they had picked out of high school in Aldergrove, British Columbia, in the 17th round of the 2002 draft. Right after Clear-water's 2005 season, Mathieson was on his way to the Arizona Fall League (AFL) for some additional seasoning with the Sur-prise Scorpions, which made it to the AFL's championship game against the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
Although he went only 0-2 with an unimpressive 6.92 ERA, Mathieson did strike out 36 batters in 26 innings.
"The AFL gave me a chance to work on my slider, which came around," Mathieson recently said before an R-Phils game with the Connecticut De-fenders.
He also admitted that it was a "nice change to be on team that won 90 percent of its games."
It has become obvious that Mathieson was pleased with the work he put into his slider. "I can [now] throw the slider for a strike whenever I want, wherever I want," he said in a straightforward, confident manner.
His money pitch is his fastball which he throws as a straight, four-seamer, and he also features a down-breaking changeup.
A deciding factor in the development of a young pitcher is the concept of command, taking charge on the mound, challenging and getting ahead of the batters.
"It's huge," said Ma-thieson of the importance of command. "If you get behind a batter, it's hard to pitch." In those instances, he said that most times a batter gets easier pitches to hit. A struggling pitcher doesn't have many options in cases like that.
Since coming to Double-A Reading and the EL, Mathieson has noticed the difference. "The guys are lot better hitters up here," he commented, comparing the Florida State League to the EL. He said that his work in the AFL prepared him for the improved quality of hitting in the EL.
About the only surprise he has found so far in the EL is Erie. The SeaDogs were at 28-29, in fourth place in the EL south, and were hitting .221 as a team. "Most of those guys were with Lakeland (Single-A Lakeland Tigers) in the Florida State League [last year] and tore it up," he said. Lakeland finished first in that league.
Now in his fifth year of professional baseball, Mathieson said he is satisfied with his progress, but quickly adds, "You're never done learning. I'm happy where I am but my goal is to get a September call up to the big leagues. I believe I can help them [Philadelphia] out."
Nevertheless, he said that everybody tends to look at statistics but that for him his pitching record doesn't have that great an impact on his performance. "Last year and this year, I'm used to that," he continued. "You can't say you'll do too much, then you fail."
Instead, he opts for taking a realistic approach to his career. "You have to stay to your game plan," he explained. "It's staying within yourself."
Mathieson raised eyebrows a few weeks ago by hitting one into the left field stands in Blair County Stadium in Altoona in a game won by the R-Phils, 7-5. "Yes," he said with a grin. "I recall it. It definitely was a great feeling, but I have to get another hit first."
He got his first EL hit, a single, on April 17 against the Connecticut Def-enders. On May 5 he hit his first home run of the year against Altoona. His second home run and third hit of the year came against Binghamton on June 6.
That's straying a little bit out of his game plan as far as hitting goes, but you can be sure that Mathieson isn't too upset.
He's staying within himself where it counts the most: on the mound.