J.R. Mathes: Lifelong Cub Fan Holding His Own

Daytona Cubs pitcher J.R. Mathes grew up a Cubs fan in his home state of Indiana. The 23-year-old left-hander has been practically unhittable this season and remains undefeated in his Cubs minor league career since last year. He has not allowed an earned run in four starts this April and has 18 strikeouts to only four walks.

"I am trying to hold my own," Mathes said. "I have just come out throwing strikes and have been targeting my pitches. The defense plays well behind me, too. My two-seam fastball has gotten me a lot of ground ball outs and that's my game plan."

Mathes and Sean Marshall are the two lefties in Daytona's rotation. The defending Florida State League Champions are in first place already and pitching is a big reason why. After being drafted in the 16th round last June, Mathes has taken the fast track down to Florida, and Advanced A-ball action.

The Grainger, Ind. native spent two and a half weeks in Mesa last season before being promoted to short-season Boise, where he went 3-0 with a 3.50 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Due largely in part to those numbers, Mathes skipped Mid-A Peoria and ended up in Daytona.

"I feel like I had a wonderful season last year," Mathes said. "I had a good spring training and have been doing well ever since. I went into it with no expectations. It is nice to do well and skip a level; it's an accomplishment. To be honest with you, I didn't see this coming."

Grainger is a small town near South Bend. Mathes grew up following the Cubs, and so it was quite surreal when the Western Michigan graduate was picked by the closest major league city.

"I was thankful to be drafted by the Cubs," Mathes said. "It's nice to be drafted by your favorite ballclub. It would be nice to play for them some day, but for right now, I need to keep learning from my mistakes; that's what baseball is all about."

To go along with Mathes' two-seam sinking fastball, the southpaw throws a changeup and curveball to opposing hitters. Winning has given him immediate confidence in the farm system. Last season, the short-season Class-A Hawks captured the Northwest League Championship, and Mathes is now a part of another affiliate that won a title in 2004. He attributes four years of college to his maturity.

"College is a learning experience," Mathes said. "To live on your own and be able to get an education definitely helped me learn my strengths and weaknesses."

Now Mathes will attempt to further develop what he gained in college and at Boise. He is not focused on individual achievements. At this point in his career, he knows that another title will provide good things for not only himself, but his entire team.

"It would be nice to repeat as champions and win that ring," Mathes said. "It would be nice."

Scott Sabin is the contributing editor of Inside The Ivy. Write to Scott at scott@insidetheivy.com.

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