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Comeback kid Mathieson back with uni of youth

Ex-star of Junior National team, whose pro career was derailed by injuries, pitching for Team Canada
MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Scott Mathieson was considered one of the Phillies' top prospects after being drafted out of Aldergrove, British Columbia, in June 2002 after starring for the Langley Blades Junior National team.

Mathieson was 22 when he made his Major League debut in June 2006. He had his first Tommy John surgery that September. A year later, he had another operation to move a nerve in his elbow. Eight months after that, he had another Tommy John surgery, as well as a procedure to move the nerve again.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Scott Mathieson was considered one of the Phillies' top prospects after being drafted out of Aldergrove, British Columbia, in June 2002 after starring for the Langley Blades Junior National team.

Mathieson was 22 when he made his Major League debut in June 2006. He had his first Tommy John surgery that September. A year later, he had another operation to move a nerve in his elbow. Eight months after that, he had another Tommy John surgery, as well as a procedure to move the nerve again.

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:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

He was released in November 2011. He was 27 years old.

There are some nice comeback stories on Team Canada's roster in this year's World Baseball Classic. Eric Gagne, 41, who pitched the third inning of a 7-1 exhibition win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, is trying to resuscitate his career, even though he hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008. Ryan Dempster, who turns 40 in May, will be the starting pitcher when Canada opens WBC 2017 play against the Dominican Republic on Thursday in Miami.

Video: CAN@TOR: Dempster discusses playing for Canada

Mathieson's story might be the most remarkable of all, though. He'll be appearing in his third Classic and is a candidate to be Canada's closer. He's going into his sixth season with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League, where he's made 300 appearances without a problem and has a 2.32 combined ERA.

At 33, Mathieson loves pitching in the Classic. Truth is, after all he's been through, he's just grateful to be pitching anywhere.

"I just take it one day at a time," he said. "I'm just excited. I have fun with what I'm doing. Good or bad, I try to have fun with it. At the end of the day, I get paid to play baseball. I don't care who you are, if you're getting paid to play a kid's game, you have to be excited about that. How can you not be giddy about that?"

Mathieson pitched the seventh inning against the Blue Jays, allowing two walks and Toronto's only run. He struck out one.

He was already starting to feel better physically when he went to Japan, but the fresh start and unorthodox training program there turned him around.

"Looking at it from the outside, it looks crazy," he said. "But it worked for me. It's like going back to rookie ball. You run a lot. The throwing is unbelievable. I literally threw a bullpen in the sixth inning of every single game of the season. Now pitching in the back of the bullpen, I'd get down there in the fourth or fifth, and as soon as I'd get down there, I'd stretch and I'd throw a 15-minute bullpen. Every single game of the season. And, knock on wood, I feel healthy."

At the end of this year, if there's an offer, Mathieson may return to the United States. If not, he'll probably retire. He's made enough money -- he signed for $1.2 million guaranteed his first year and will make about $3 million this season -- to be able to do whatever he wants.

Right now, though, he's just happy to be representing his country.

"My best memories in baseball are wearing this jersey," he said. "All the way back to 2006 when we beat the USA Junior National team. It just seems like it's a great group of guys. We all get along. It's just a fun situation."

WORTH NOTING
• Gagne gave up one hit, walked one and hit 93 mph on the radar gun.

Video: CAN@TOR: Gagne tosses scoreless inning in return

"I was really nervous, really amped up a little bit. I've still got to tweak my mechanics, but overall I felt good," the former big league All-Star said. "I just didn't want to embarrass myself. I knew I've been working really, really hard, I knew I'm ready physically and mentally, but going out there is a different story."

• First baseman Freddie Freeman, born in California to Canadian parents, finally realized his dream of playing in a Team Canada uniform. He's playing to honor his mother, Rosemary. And to make it even more special, his father, Fred, was in the stands.

Video: CAN@TOR: Freeman on what it means to represent Canada

"I know my mother was watching," he said. "I never get nervous playing the game. But I was a little nervous [Tuesday], and I know I'll be nervous on Thursday."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

Scott Mathieson