Like everything else in baseball, injuries are unpredictable. Sometimes they happen when a player is running, throwing or hitting, and sometimes they happen when a player does something ridiculous like running face first into a wall.
While most injuries, ridiculous or not, happen on the field, sometimes the craziest injuries happen off the field. For Yankee fans, it was Joba Chamberlain on a trampoline with his son. For Brewers fans, it was Zack Greinke playing basketball. And for Nationals fans, it was Ryan Mattheus punching his locker. And perhaps his injury was the dumbest of them all.
Mattheus punched the locker out of frustration after a rough outing in San Diego last May, breaking his pitching hand. The injury forced Mattheus to miss over two months on the disabled list.
You can call it bad luck. You can call it a freak accident. I call it stupid, and I think Ryan Mattheus agrees.
“I had this self-inflicted injury that was a pretty boneheaded move on my part,” Mattheus told Federal Baseball at NatsFest last Saturday. “And I had to sit around for two months and watch my teammates try to get back in that thing, you know, and that’s tough to swallow walking in that clubhouse every day and seeing guys working hard on winning ballgames and I was working hard trying to fix something that I did that wasn’t very smart.”
Prior to the injury, Mattheus had a 4.96 ERA, with five walks and 12 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings for the Nationals. While his numbers weren’t impressive by any means, he really struggled after returning from the disabled list on July 26th.
In just nine games, Mattheus posted a 9.45 ERA with opponents posting a .393/.514/.500 line against him, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Syracuse.
Mattheus returned from Syracuse in late-August and finished the season with a 6.37 ERA, 15 walks (3.82 BB/9) and 22 strikeouts (5.60 K/9) in 37 games. The reliever’s biggest struggle was facing left-handed hitters, who posted a .438/.486/.516 line against him in 2013.
Given the nature of his injury, it’s understandable that Mattheus wanted to be back with the big league club sooner, rather than later. But despite spending over two months on the disabled list, the right-hander thinks that he tried to come back too quickly, and that it ultimately led to his lousy performance the rest of the season.
“Then when I came back I kind of wanted to fix it all at once,” Mattheus continued. “My first outing I was like, ‘Well, I gotta let them know that I’m back and I’ve got to make up for this. So I was trying to make up for something I did instead of just doing my job. I was putting a lot more pressure on myself when I came back. Felt like I was in a position where I needed to do that when really I didn’t. I just needed to go out and be myself and do what I had done in the past. So I’m going to get back to what I did to make me successful the first couple of years I was here.”
His ‘boneheaded’ injury not only hurt him on the mound, but it also hurt his relationship with general manager Mike Rizzo, who was understandably upset by Mattheus’ actions.
”We had several little conversations, Ryan and I did,” Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Holden Kusher and Danny Rouhier,”and he knows my position with no uncertain terms.”
From breaking bones to getting a public scolding from the GM, 2013 was clearly not the year for Ryan Mattheus. Fortunately, the 2014 season is just around the corner and Mattheus has already moved on from his rough 2013 campaign. It’ll be a hard road back for the 30-year-old Mattheus but he’s confident he can come back and succeed at the big league level in 2014.
“Once it was over, it was kind of like, ‘That was a rough one,’” Mattheus said. “Then I took some time to evaluate it, see what went wrong, but now it’s gone. I’ve learned from it. I’ve moved on. It’s kind of like a fresh start now, I’m going to go in and have to compete for a job, but that’s fine. In fact, I’ve competed for a job every year that I’ve been here. So I don’t know it any other way. I’m really excited for Spring Training. I feel like I’m in a good spot and ready to come in and compete.”
Whether or not Mattheus will make the team and help the Nationals in 2014 remains to be seen. One bad move last May not only ruined the rest of the season for him, but it also made 2014 that much harder. Fortunately for Mattheus, he has the comfort of knowing that it will be very difficult to do worse than he did last season. Because when your hand breaks after you punch a locker, you’ve pretty much already hit rock bottom.