The Washington Times - June 11, 2011, 03:03AM

SAN DIEGO — Ryan Mattheus started the day with three missed calls from his Triple-A manager, Randy Knorr. Asleep in Syracuse until about 10 this morning, Mattheus woke up and returned Knorr’s call to hear the words he’s been waiting for all his life: “Get out of bed, get your stuff packed, you’re going to the big leagues,” Knorr told him.

Nearly 12 hours later — and after several emotional phone calls to his family in California — Mattheus found himself stuck in traffic in a cab on his way from the airport in San Diego to Petco Park. He walked into the clubhouse around 7:30, 20 minutes after the first pitch, and made his way to the dugout. Shaking hands and getting acquainted, Livan Hernandez grabbed Mattheus and shoved him in front of MASN cameras, forcing him to wave hello. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.


“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Mattheus said after the Nationals 2-1 victory over the Padres Friday night. “It was out of the blue and it was amazing.”

The right-hander, who had yet to allow a run, and had given up just three hits, in 10 innings with Triple-A Syracuse this season, was in the midst of his eighth minor league season when the long-awaited call finally came. It’s been a long, winding road to the major leagues for Mattheus — a path that included a trade to Washington from the Rockies, the organization that drafted him, three weeks after he underwent Tommy John surgery. 

“It definitely hasn’t been the smoothest sailing,” he said. 

Finally healthy again, Mattheus made the Nationals notice this season. When the need arose for a right-handed reliever from the minors to replace the injured Cole Kimball, Mattheus was the first name on the list.

“I’m the same pitcher (as I was before surgery),” Mattheus said. “But I haven’t thrown the ball as good as I have this year ever before in my career. I just think some things I learned from the surgery, learning how to pitch when I didn’t have the arm strength, I took a lot away from that. I think I’m better this year because of that.”

Mattheus didn’t pitch Friday, though manager Jim Riggleman did say he was available, but he was still beaming in the clubhouse after the game. He didn’t have much time to stick around. His parents, sister, niece, nephew and one college coach made it to Petco in time to see him on a day it’s safe to say he’ll never forget.

“Nothing compares to this,” he said. “Probably the best phone call I’ve ever gotten.”