Q&A with J.R. Mathes

Left-handed starter J.R. Mathes was one of the Double-A staff's most consistent pitchers in 2006. He won 10 games and made the Southern League All-Star Game in mid-July.

The southpaw closed with a 3.27 ERA and didn't miss any scheduled starts this past season as he logged well over 100 innings for the second straight year. Drafted in the 16th round from Western Michigan University in the 2004 class, Mathes now has 25 wins in two-plus seasons in the Cubs' system and hopes to contend for a starting job next year at Triple-A, or better.

Congratulations on a fine season. With the off-season now upon us, where do you go from here?

I felt like this was a good year for me. I felt I learned a lot and that I accomplished most of the goals I had. In the off-season now, I started my workout program about three and a half weeks ago. You just want to go into next year and build on your last good year and move up. That's the ultimate goal. Getting to the big leagues and winning a championship there is definitely your goal, but in the meantime, I've wanted to win a championship with every team I've played for. When I came here in '04, when I signed here, I happened to be on that championship Boise team. It was an awesome feeling and ever since then, that's all I've wanted to do.

You said you learned a lot this year. Anything specific?

Definitely. Me and my pitching coach, Mike Anderson, we always had talks. You know, my game is usually to keep the ball low in the zone, to use sink. Mike said, "You know, you're going to have to go up to expand the zone and then go back down." That's something I'd never really thought about. You're always taught to keep the ball down in the zone, so pitching up and then going back down was one of the major things. And then consistency. That's what it's all about.

You strike me as a strike-thrower – a no-nonsense, pound-the-zone type of guy, and realistically, your numbers were better all-around at Double-A than at Single-A last year. How much did expanding the zone attribute to that?

If you're not expanding the zone, your opposing hitter knows you're just going to keep the ball down and usually try to stay back and go the opposite way. When you start going up, down, in and out, it opens a whole new door. You can go up and in, not necessarily as a brush-back technique but just to show, "Hey, this is my plate. I'm not going to be intimidated by you." I have the ability to throw strikes and feel I can throw all three of my pitches for strikes. That helps a lot when you can go out of the zone and then lock right back in.

We talked about your repertoire earlier this year, but remind us again of your arsenal.

It is a breaking ball, a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, and then a four-seam and two-seam changeup. My two-seam fastball has the natural sink to it and I use it on the outer half against righties, usually to let the ball sink down and away. What I usually do is I'll cut a four-seam pitch to go away from the lefties and into righties. After a while, guys start leaning because they know what your tendencies are and how you're pitching them, so you cut a little fastball and make it run in on their hands to give them a little something else. Other than that, that's pretty much it.

When you started dealing after that first month, was there any one pitch you were placing a whole lot of emphasis on?

One of the things I started working on a lot was my changeup on the right side of the plate moving in to right-handed hitters, because my ball has a natural left-handed movement away from righties. I wanted to start throwing it in toward righties and have it break back over the plate. My pitching coach and I talked about how (Greg) Maddux does it a lot. You know how you see him pitch on TV and the ball looks like a screwball? We were looking at that as well as a four-seamer that came back, too, so that they both have the same action with a little difference in velocity.

Going into next year – and I realize we're still several months away – you've conquered your past two levels of competition. Is it too early to talk about where the organization sees you pitching in '07?

Hopefully I'll move up to Triple-A, and it would be great to move up to the big leagues. As of right now, it's just one of those things that you can't control, so you just prepare the best you can to get that opportunity. It would be fantastic to move up, that's for sure.

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