Phillies Notebook: Phils' Scott Mathieson back after two major surgeries

Posted: June 18, 2010

NEW YORK - The drives to the ballpark were the hardest. Early summer, the Florida sun beating down, the notorious Tampa Bay gridlock snarling the roadways, and righthander Scott Mathieson would be driving to the Phillies' spring-training complex instead of continuing what had been an impressive rise through the team's minor league system.

"Right after spring training was the toughest, driving down to the field," Mathieson said yesterday. "For me, there were many days when I would pull over and think about turning around. That was tough. Stuck in traffic, and just pull over, like, 'What am I doing?' "

Doctors say the success rate of a second Tommy John surgery is right around 30 percent, which were the odds Mathieson was staring at when he woke up in a hospital room on May 15, 2008, and confronted his own mortality. Two years before, he had broken into the big leagues as one of the organization's better pitching prospects, and made eight starts before feeling a burning in his right elbow after throwing five pitches to Atlanta's Pete Orr on Sept. 2, 2006.

The ensuing surgery kicked off a frustrating battle with his body that finally culminated yesterday with his promotion to the major league roster, which developed a vacancy when the Phillies decided to place lefty Antonio Bastardo on the disabled list with inflammation in his ulnar nerve (elbow).

After his first surgery, Mathieson returned to the field late in 2007, then participated in major league spring training in 2008. Toward the end of the spring, however, Mathieson reinjured the elbow, prompting a second surgery that made him consider walking away from baseball. He decided to give rehab a chance, and made a surprising recovery, returning to pitch in 22 minor league games in 2009.

"If I didn't, I'd never know what could have been," said Mathieson, 26. "You get a taste of it, and it's hard to walk away from it."

This spring, he was optioned to the minors late in spring training after the Phillies decided he needed more time on the mound before he was ready for big-league action. He responded with 2 dominant months at Triple A Lehigh Valley, allowing just four runs in 29 innings and striking out 33 with 10 walks in his first 24 appearances of the season. He was 2-2 with a 2.43 ERA and 12 saves. His velocity is back where it was before the surgeries, sitting in the mid-90s and, on at least one occasion, touching 99.

Whether Mathieson, who manager Charlie Manuel said will be used at the front end of the bullpen, sticks around depends both on his health and on his ability to use his slider to get big-league hitters out.

"I think I'll still always work on it, but I'm throwing my slider for strikes as much as I throw my fastball, almost 70 percent for strikes," said Mathieson, a 6-3, 195-pound native of Vancouver. "I feel like I'm throwing it in the count, it's just working on perfecting it and making it more of an out pitch."

Francisco back in

The Phillies are hoping one benefit of their interleague schedule will be a chance to get Ben Francisco into a groove. The 28-year-old reserve outfielder, who hit .278 with a .317 OBP and .843 OPS in 97 at-bats for the Phillies last season after joining Cliff Lee in the late-July trade with Cleveland, started at DH last night for the fourth time in five games.

Francisco logged just four starts and 30 plate appearances in the Phillies' first 44 games. Perhaps not coincidentally, he struggled at the plate, going 5-for-27 (.185) with six strikeouts. But he has started eight of the Phillies' last 20 games, and gone 9-for-33 (.273) with three doubles.

In Francisco's first two seasons in the majors, he hit .262 with a .332 OBP, .774 OPS, 18 stolen bases and 30 home runs. But he also logged more than 450 plate appearances in each of those two seasons.

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