Even though Matt Squires has a lot to prove, he's probably in a better place coming into Spring Training 2006 than he's ever been. "I took time off and just worked out a lot over the winter," said Squires. "I got to spend a lot of time with my family and clear my head." Now, Squires is in Clearwater and anxious for spring training to start, so he can show what a little time away - and a healthy shoulder - can do for a guy. "My arm feels better than it has in three years."
It was during the 2004 season that Squires first started having trouble. He was coming off a great season at Clearwater, but something just wasn't right. "My shoulder felt like a rusty gate," Squires said just before the aching shoulder sent him into surgery. Last season, he was technically healthy - at least healthy enough to pitch - but he certainly wasn't 100% and it showed. His velocity was down and his control wasn't what it normally would be. Even though he was back at Clearwater, he struggled until the final three weeks of the season. "It was disappointing, because by the time I really started to feel good again, the season was almost over," said Squires. The fact that he was feeling better showed. He allowed just one earned run over 6 2/3 innings and looked like the pitcher that Clearwater fans saw in 2003 when he posted a 1.86 ERA in 41 games at Clearwater. In his final outing of the season, Squires threw three shutout innings and knew he was back. "I kind of hated it, because I knew the season was over, but all winter long, I've been able to rest, knowing that I can pitch without pain," explained the 27 year old left-hander.
With his arm healthy, Squires focused on his workout regimen at his home in Lewiston, Idaho. He also focused on clearing his head and getting ready mentally for 2006. "I have to show that I can pitch again. It's like starting all over," said Squires. "I think there are a lot of people wondering how I'll do. I know I'll be okay, but I have to show everyone that I'm finally healthy and that I can pitch." While thinking about the mental part of the game, Squires couldn't help but think about how things could have been. "I see guys that I played with a few years ago and they're either in the majors or fighting for a job in the majors. I think a lot about how I should be there too, but there's nothing I can do about that," admitted Squires.
Squires has kept in touch with three members of that 2003 Clearwater team. Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson were all teammates of Squires in 2003. Floyd has gotten a taste of the majors - although it's been a bittersweet taste - and Madson has had a lot of success in the Phillies' bulllpen and looks to move into the starting rotation in 2006. Hamels would likely be there too, if not for a bunch of injuries that have slowed him to a crawl. "Cole is the best left-hander I have ever seen," said Squires. "Gavin is right there, too. He's got to be one of the best that I've seen and he's a great guy." Hamels and Squires have been able to serve as a support system for each other as they've gone through injury problems. "When Cole gets healthy, people are going to be amazed at how good he is. He can be downright scary," laughed Squires.
"Last season just wasn't a true test," admitted Squires. Not only wasn't he healthy, but the Clearwater Threshers were simply a bad team. Their team ERA was a putrid 5.26 and it made pitching that much tougher. "Guys approach a game differently when they're facing a team with a high ERA. They just can't wait to get up there and hit and they feel like they can hit anything. It's tough to pitch on a team like that." With Squires most likely heading to Reading, it's unlikely that he'll be on a weak pitching staff again in 2006. Squires should be in the bullpen waiting for a chance to pitch with guys like Hamels, Giovany Gonzalez and Scott Mathieson all in the rotation. "There's no reason why Mathieson shouldn't be there (Reading) and if Cole is healthy, that's going to be an awesome rotation," said Squires. "That's going to be fun."