Mathis seeks consistency

Doug Mathis enters the 2008 season looking to expand on his 2007 success. The righty got off to a good start by impressing the Rangers with a strong showing in big league camp. Lone Star Dugout has a spring training interview with the hurler, who will make his 2008 debut with the Oklahoma RedHawks on Saturday evening.

Doug Mathis became a well-known prospect in 2007, posting an 11-7 record with a 3.76 ERA in 22 starts with Double-A Frisco. Mathis' numbers took a mid-season dive due to a back injury that bothered him for nearly two months.

Mathis is set to begin his 2008 season with Triple-A Oklahoma, but this isn't the first time he has opened a season with the RedHawks. Despite having pitched just 10 innings above the High-A level, the Rangers opted to start Mathis in Triple-A last season. The move turned out to be a disaster, as he surrendered 16 runs on 21 hits in just 12.2 innings pitched. Mathis was quickly sent back to Double-A, where he instantly dominated.

Leading into the season, the right-hander didn't receive a non-roster invite to Major League spring training. But Mathis was still able to back up in big league games a few times, even getting into five games. Mathis pitched fairly well, giving up two runs in 4.1 innings.

The Rangers felt Mathis had been impressive enough in spring training to move his locker to big league camp for a short time. The 24-year-old may not have received that pre-season invitation to big league camp, but he had obviously caught the eye of the Rangers brass.

Lone Star Dugout was able to catch up with Mathis while we were recently in Surprise. This interview was conducted on March 24.

Jason Cole: I know you got moved to big league camp awhile back. Are you still there?

Doug Mathis: No, I was only up there for a short time – maybe five or six days. They just told me that they were kind of rewarding me because they felt that I should have been there the whole time. They felt that I needed to be over there and experience it. It was kind of cool for the organization to show that they thought I should have been over there. A lot of times they wouldn't even think about it. It was cool that they recognized that even though I was only over there for a short time. It was very beneficial.

Cole: What were you able to pick up from the guys over there?

Mathis: I'd say the biggest thing is just the way guys carry themselves and certain day-to-day things. Baseball is pretty much going to be the same game. You pick up a lot of things from how guys act, how they carry themselves around the clubhouse, and what they do during their daily routine. You pick up on that and it's a lot more detail than normal.

Cole: You were able to get into a few big league games. How did that feel?

Mathis: It's cool. I got in a couple of times early in spring. That's definitely cool. It was the first time I had done that – getting into a big league spring training game. After I got in a couple of times it was just baseball. I was just being a pitcher trying to get hitters out. I think my last outing I faced the Mariners. You face some big league guys – some well-known guys – and after you're done, you just think ‘yeah, I pitched against big league hitters'. It's kind of cool.

Cole: Have you had the opportunity to throw in any minor league games yet?

Mathis: I pitched in one. I threw on Friday. I was backing up a lot with the big league games, so I'm kind of behind on my throwing innings-wise. But I'll be fine. I threw three on Friday, I'll throw four tomorrow, and I'm scheduled to go five or six on Sunday. I should be right on track of where I need to be for the season. That's not an issue.

Cole: So you don't expect to be on any kind of pitch count once the season starts?

Mathis: I don't think so, I should be fine. I threw three innings yesterday and I should be up to 60 pitches tomorrow and right around 90 next Sunday. I should be ready to go and I shouldn't have anything holding me back. I'll be right where I need to be.

Cole: How did you feel you were able to pitch in that minor league game?

Mathis: I did alright. The one thing I noticed was the command wasn't that great with my fastball, but it is still real early. It has been good in the games I've been in earlier – the big league games. Other than that, my stuff is fine. Physically I feel good. That's the big thing with spring training. I think a lot of guys get caught up in the results they get, but spring training is not really about that. You want to do well obviously, but I want to make sure I'm ready to go for the season.

Cole: What has been your primary focus as you throw in bullpens and games out here?

Mathis: I'd say this year I'm definitely working on my sinker a little more. I'm working that on both sides of the plate this year. But this year is going to be big for me commanding all my pitches. The changeup is going to be a big pitch. I've been working on that a lot. For me, I'm just working on throwing everything for strikes and being better down in the zone. That is really all you can do. You're never going to be perfect at it so you've just got to try and get better and better at it.

Cole: Last year your repertoire was fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. Is it the same this year?

Mathis: Yeah. Sometimes I'll mix in a cutter now and then, but that is still kind of developing. I haven't really worked on it that much because I still want to get my other pitches broken down first before I start throwing it. Sometimes I get too many things going and I'm real average at them. I'd rather be real good at the ones I throw than just be average at all of them. I'd say my sinker is the one thing I've been working on a lot more.

Cole: Is the cutter something you plan on adding full-time?

Mathis: I don't know, it just depends. I've talked to Rick Adair about it in the past. A lot of times I can use my slider as a cutter depending on what kind of action I'm getting on it. Really I've only thrown it in bullpens a few times and I haven't thrown it in a game yet. I think I'm going to start playing around with it and see how it goes. If it develops into something then I'll start using it. It's always good to have another look.

Cole: I believe last year was the first time you had thrown your curveball for a full season since high school. How is that developing?

Mathis: Yeah, it was the first full season. I added it halfway through '06 with Bakersfield. It is coming along. It's come along – it's developing pretty good. This spring it has been really good. Before it was kind of a below-average pitch or an average pitch. I wouldn't say it is outstanding, but it's definitely getting better. It's not going backwards.

Cole: Is the main thing for your curveball just getting the consistency down?

Mathis: I think it's just throwing it consistently and trying to get a good spin on it, trying to be comfortable with the grip. I just want to throw it and not try to kind of baby it. When you start throwing a pitch you haven't thrown in awhile, it's easy to stop throwing it. The big thing is to keep throwing it and keep getting that feel for it.

Cole: I assume you'll be starting the season in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma?

Mathis: Yeah, I'll be in Oklahoma. They said something about that the other day. That is kind of what they've been telling me all spring and in the offseason.

Cole: Have the Rangers indicated whether or not you will get a chance in the Majors this season?

Mathis: Yeah, I've been told – I mean nothing is ever guaranteed in this game. Obviously if I go out there and have a good year and I do what I'm capable of doing. It's not up to me – it's up to me how I play – but I don't have any control of whether or not anyone in the front office is going to call me up. I definitely have a pretty strong chance and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what is going to happen this year. I think a lot of guys are going to have a chance this year, especially being in that Triple-A rotation. There are a lot of guys that are going to have that opportunity. It's going to be fun.

Cole: Have you set any goals for the 2008 season?

Mathis: In the past, I have set goals. But this year I just want to be consistent. I don't want to have too many ups-and-downs. I just want to stay on a level playing field this year. I think last year I was bad at the beginning of the year in Oklahoma, then I was real good, then I went through my back issues and I was down, and I was up again at the end of the year. I kind of want to stay on an even path all year. Obviously I want to stay on a good path. I think that's the big thing – just staying consistent. That's going to let any player advance in this game. As long as you're consistent and producing, then nobody can say anything to you.

Cole: You mentioned last year's back issues. Are you still having any problems with your back?

Mathis: No, my back is good. That was just a weird thing last year. I think that was just a thing that flared up at midseason. You either play through it or you stop playing and I'm not a guy that wants to miss time. Obviously I tried to play through it. It did affect me, but that's just an excuse to have when things are going bad. When things are going good, you're like ‘oh, my back is fine'. That was something that I've got under control now and I should be fine all year.

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