It takes a large measure of determination and belief in yourself to keep going when you spend eight years working your way to the big leagues, with two years at each Minor League level along the way. So when you start off your MLB career 2-for-19, well, you’re not going to be as fazed as much as a highly touted can’t-miss prospect.
Wyatt Mathisen is an example of that.
The third baseman hit his first two big league homers in consecutive innings Wednesday afternoon, as he helped lead the D-backs past the Rangers, 7-3, to complete a two-game sweep at Chase Field.
“Playing that long in the Minor Leagues, it teaches you how to grind stuff out,” Mathisen said. “Even when stuff is going bad, to just keep getting through it. I started terrible last year. I think, through April, I was hitting .160 with three RBIs. I’ve sort of flip-flopped year to year on starting bad and starting good. You just try to make adjustments and get the barrel on the ball and swing at good pitches.”
When Mathisen stepped to the plate against Texas starter Wes Benjamin in the fifth, Arizona had looked lifeless on offense to that point, trailing, 3-0. After taking a curveball for a strike, Mathisen jumped on a changeup and sent it into the left-field bleachers for his first homer.
“It felt great, obviously,” Mathisen said. “It’s a dream come true to hit home runs in the big leagues. It was awesome. I just wanted to get the barrel on the ball. That’s been my main focus. The first thing I felt was it get on the barrel and I was like, 'Great, that’s a good start.' And then I saw where it was and was like, 'It’s got a shot.' It went out, and it was awesome.”
It took eight years and 19 at-bats for Mathisen to get that first big league homer. But he didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the second. An inning later, he hit an 0-2 slider from right-hander Nick Goody over the left-field wall (a two-run homer that was part of a six-run sixth), becoming just the second D-backs player to hit his first two career home runs in the same game, along with Conor Jackson (Aug. 6, 2005).
While in the Pirates' organization, Mathisen made an adjustment to his swing with personal hitting coach Benny Craig following the 2017 season that changed the trajectory of his career. As many hitters have done in this age of baseball, Mathisen worked to get the ball in the air more, which translated to an .803 OPS over 90 games between Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona in '18.
Mathisen became a six-year Minor League free agent after the 2018 season, and the D-backs were quick to sign him. After Mathisen slashed .283/.403/.601 in 87 games for Triple-A Reno last year, Arizona added him to its 40-man roster.
“Last year, even though it was my best year, it was probably one of those years where I struggled mentally toward the end,” Mathisen said. “I got hurt. I thought I was playing well enough at the time to get called up at some point, and then getting hurt, it’s like, ‘Did I just lose that opportunity? Was that my one chance to get to the big leagues?' It sort of puts a little doubt in your mind. Then, the whole season happening like it is, it puts even more doubt in your mind.”
Instead, this season opened the door for Mathisen, who was in Spring Training and then became part of the D-backs' 60-man player pool during Summer Camp in July.
On Sept. 6, Mathisen got called up, and even though he struggled, manager Torey Lovullo said he believed in Mathisen’s swing. Lovullo just wanted to see a bit better pitch selection, which comes with playing time, so he continued to give Mathisen starts when he could.
“Long,” Mathisen said of his road to Wednesday. “But the longness has made it even better, I think. I mean, there’s a lot of guys who get to the big leagues quick. There are guys, but not as many, who play a ton of years in the Minor Leagues. I feel like it almost makes it that much sweeter to come up here and help the team win and get to the big leagues, in general.”