CINCINNATI — Ryan Mattheus was pulled from Thursday night’s game when Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty and manager Davey Johnson noticed a drop in the right-handed relievers’ velocity from his usual mid-90s down to 90 mph. After the game, and in spite of being pulled a week before with some shoulder tightness, Mattheus insisted he felt fine but did notice the velocity drop himself.
He maintained that stance Friday afternoon in Cincinnati, admitting only that he was a little tired and had experienced this dead arm type of feeling during spring training occasionally. A few days off from game action was what he expected. But around 4 p.m. Mattheus was summoned to the manager’s office and Johnson informed him that he’d be getting more than a few days, he’d be getting at least 15. Mattheus was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday with a right shoulder strain.
Johnson did not rule out the possibility that the 27-year-old rookie would be done for the season.
“We’re in a position where we’re not in a pennant race, he’s a good young pitcher and his future with the organization is something we’ll really protect,” Johnson said. “He’ll be on the DL for the next couple of weeks and he may not pitch the rest of the year. Then again, he may be fine and come back after a rest and pitch again.”
Mattheus just recently passed the two-year anniversary mark from his Tommy John surgery, performed in July 2009, and this is his first full season of action post-operation. Between the minor leagues and the major leagues, Mattheus has thrown 54 2/3 innings this season, the most since 2008, when he was in Double-A with the Colorado Rockies organization in his first year after being converted to a reliever.
Mattheus spent almost all of 2010 rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery down in Viera, Fla., along with other injured partied Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang. But as Zimmermann zipped through his rehab, Mattheus struggled some: setback once or twice during the process and discouraged when he came out to throw his first live batting practice session and was seeing fastballs clock in in the mid-80s. It was a long, arduous process, but Mattheus dominated at Triple-A this season and earned himself a big league call-up in early June when Cole Kimball went to the disabled list with what would turn out to be season-ending shoulder surgery.
Because of his injury history, Mattheus felt fine being precautionary last week when Jayson Werth noticed him stretching his arm between innings and promoted McCatty and Johnson to pull him, and again Thursday night when they saw his velocity dip. He wasn’t expecting a trip to the disabled list, but Johnson told him they weren’t about to take any chances with him.
“He’s had a great year,” Johnson said, noting no decision had been made whether to send Mattheus for any tests like an MRI just yet. “Knowing that he didn’t pitch for two years and then we went over his record and he’s been in about 54 ballgames this year. It’s not a lot but it’s a lot coming off of being down a couple years. He needs the rest so we’re just trying to do the right thing.”
The Nationals will announce a corresponding roster move on Saturday but Johnson acknowledged he’s leaning toward calling up a position player and returning to a more traditional seven-man bullpen. The Nationals had been working with eight relievers since the trade deadline and a short bench. They will play a man short Friday night.
With September call-ups nearing the Nationals can take their pick of players they’d like to join the roster but one easy (and purely speculative) possibility could be Roger Bernadina, who has been with Triple-A since the day before the trade deadline. Since returning to the minor leagues, Bernadina has hit .224 with a .330 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage.