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."