Last week, at the Rangers Fan Fest, I interviewed Rangers pitcher Doug Mathis. Doug was nice enough to sit with me for about half an hour after he finished signing autographs.
Me: Why didn’t you sign with the Dodgers when they drafted you in 2002 out of high school?
Doug: They wanted me to do a draft-and-follow, which they no longer do. I went to Central Arizona to do a draft-and-follow at the junior college there. I was originally going to go to the University of Arizona but I ended up going to Central Arizona and playing there for two years.
Me: Can you explain how the draft-and-follow process worked?
Doug: You had a team draft you and then you would go to junior college, usually for a year, and the team would have rights to sign you at the end of that year. So if you do well that year and they want to sign you, that’s when they can make an offer to you. I ended up not signing with them after my first year and I ended up going back there for another year.
Me: Why didn’t you sign with the Mariners when they drafted you in 2003 out of Central Arizona Junior College?
Doug: I had a scholarship to the University of Missouri and that opportunity was going to be better than the opportunity with the Mariners at that time. So I decided to go there and I was drafted by the Rangers after my one year there. So it kind of worked out for me.
Me: What was the key to your High-A rebound in 2006 when you had an 8.48 ERA through your first six Bakersfield appearances and then a 2.12 ERA in your next five and when you averaged 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings in your first 11 appearances and 7.7 in your next 15?
Doug: I’d say I made a little bit of a mechanical adjustment with Rick Adair and then I just kind of got in a good groove. I started throwing more strikes and had better stuff, for whatever reason. I don’t know if that was from the mechanical thing or mental. It might have been my overall approach. I kind of understood what kind of pitcher I was and maybe I was trying to do too much at first. I think I started slowing things down and going up there and not trying to do too much.
Me: Can you tell how you adjusted in 2007, when you struggled in triple-A (0-3, 10.66 ERA) before dominating the Texas League in double-A for the rest of the season?
Doug: That was probably more mental than anything because my stuff wasn’t any different in triple-A than it was when I got to Frisco. I think for me that year, I was kind of caught off-guard going to triple-A to start the year, so I was kind of pressing a little bit trying to impress people. I was one of the younger guys on the team up there, so I didn’t really feel like I fit in that much. But once I got to Frisco, I felt like I was kind of where I belonged in my mind. I kind of was more at ease. I think a key to me pitching well down there is that I was comfortable and I was OK being there. That’s the biggest thing for any player – you have to be comfortable where you’re at.
Me: How much has the mechanical adjustment of lengthening your arm motion helped you?
Doug: It’s helped me out a lot. I used to have a real short arm action. It’s a little longer now. That’s what we fixed three years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. So that’s been a big adjustment to what I’m doing now. So I’m staying with that. It’s pretty much the basis of what I do out there.
Me: What was your first thought when you were called up to the Rangers last year?
Doug: My first thought was that I thought they were joking when they called me. I didn’t really believe them at first but after that I was kind of starstruck, kind of in awe, didn’t know what to think. I called my parents and called my brother to let them know. They didn’t believe me at first either. It was a kind of a shocking, life-changing moment. So it’s definitely something I’ll never forget.
Me: Who was the first person you called?
Doug: My parents, right away. As soon as I got off the phone with the Rangers, I called them. They both started crying.
Me: Where were you when you found that out?
Doug: I was in Oklahoma City. I was just getting back to my apartment after a game one night. I got the phone call and had to turn around and go back to the stadium and get my stuff.
Me: What is the biggest adjustment you had to make when you started facing major-league hitting?
Doug: The biggest adjustment for me was being aggressive and not really worrying about getting hit. I think a lot of times when you get called up or get in a new situation or get promoted somewhere, you try to do too much and you don’t really trust yourself or trust your stuff. The biggest thing is that you need to do is trust that you’re here for a reason and you got called up for a reason and you’re good enough to get guys out. I think that’s the biggest thing. Yeah, your stuff is going to help you but you’ve got to be able trust that stuff and believe that you’re going to be able to get guys like Ichiro and Alex Rodriguez out. I’m not an overpowering pitcher so I have to do different things to get guys out. I can’t go out there and throw 95 so I’ve got to go out there and pitch my game and believe that’s going to get everybody out.
Me: How big is the difference in talent once you get to the majors?
Doug: Well, it’s not called the big leagues for nothing. The hitters are good hitters 1 through 9. A guy hitting 9th in the majors would be hitting in the middle of the order in triple-A or double-A. It’s quite a jump. It’s still baseball though so you can’t get all starstruck when facing those big names.
Me: What are three major differences between major league and minor league spring training camps?
Doug: Number one, the meal money is a lot better in big league camp. The media attention is another difference. And then the games you play in the minor leagues are on the backfields, while the major league games are in the main stadium, so there’s definitely more of a microscope on you on the big league side.
Me: You had a really unique experience last year because it’s not very often that someone starts in minor league camp and then gets added to major league camp roster.
Doug: Yeah, that morning when I got moved over, I thought I was in trouble. I got called into the office and they told me they were going to move me over to the big league side. I was only over there for about a week but it was still a great experience. I learned a lot from it so that will help me out this year when I go to my first full big league camp.
Me: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?
Doug: I’m pretty good friends with Kea Kometani. He was in triple-A last year at Oklahoma City. I’ve played with him my whole career. It’s hard to single them out. I’d say guys like Chris Davis and Taylor Teagarden. I’ve been playing with those guys a while. German Duran. Luis Mendoza. I wouldn’t be able to single three guys out but I’m pretty close with all those guys. I’m pretty good friends with most of my teammates anyway because I’m pretty laid back, so I’m pretty easy to get along with.
Me: Can you please rate each of the ballparks in the Rangers organization that you’ve played in from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) and explain your ratings?
Doug: I don’t know about Hickory. That’s the new one so I don’t know about that. Bakersfield’s probably the worst out of all of them. That’s probably about a 3 or 4. Frisco’s one of the best ballpark’s out there. That’s got to be a 9 or 10. Oklahoma City’s nice. So that’s right up there – 9 or 10. Spokane’s really nice. They do a good job there. It’s an older park but they maintain it really well. I’d rate that about an 8.
Me: Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?
Doug: Evan Longoria is a pretty tough out for me. I faced him in the minor leagues one year and then up here. For some season, he takes good swings against me. He must see the ball well out of hand or something. But he’s a tough guy for me to get out, for whatever reason. I don’t know what it is. A tough guy I faced in double-A was Chase Headley of the Padres. He was a tough out. He’s a left fielder now but he was a third baseman when he was with San Antonio the year I was in the Texas League. He was a tough out for me that year. He’s a good hitter. I don’t know, it’s tough. There are a lot of good hitters. It’s hard to pinpoint one guy that sticks out. I faced Ichiro only one time but I’m sure if I face him more, I’ll find that he’s tough to get out on a consistent basis.
Me: What is your best pitch and how was it developed?
Doug: My best pitch is between my sinker and my slider, depending on what I’m feeling like doing that day. It’s probably going to be my sinker because that’s what’s going to keep the ball on the ground for me. I’ve got to be able to throw that down in the zone consistently. I’ve got to be able to consistently pound the bottom of the strike zone with that. If I’m not throwing that well, I’m probably not going to do very well that day.
Me: Does your sinker go down and in or down and out?
Doug: For me, the sinker will be breaking down and in to a right-handed hitter, down and away to a left-handed hitter. But I’ll throw it to both sides of the plate, so it depends on where I start it at. But it will be moving in that direction, sort of towards the third base dugout.
Me: What’s been the best game so far of your professional career and why?
Doug: I’d have to say when I was in Frisco in ’07. I threw a complete game shutout against Midland towards the end of the year. I had 10 strikeouts and didn’t walk anybody. That’s probably one that stands out. I was really on my game that night. Games like that are fun. You don’t really forget those games. You try to forget the bad ones. You always remember the good ones. That was probably the best statistical game for me. I also like the games where I struggle early or give up a couple of runs early and I figure it out and end up going deep in the game. Those are games that I actually enjoy more than just going out there and cruising. I learn more from them and I feel like I accomplished something that day if I face a little adversity and come back from it. I like those games too.
Me: What was your favorite team growing up?
Doug: I was a Cubs fan when I was real young because they were always on TV. Being from Arizona, we didn’t have a team until 1998. Obviously once the Diamondbacks came, I became a Diamondbacks fan right away. I converted over from the Cubs. It wasn’t that hard. I’m not really a Cubs fan anymore. I actually still kind of follow the Diamondbacks every now and then. It’s kind of weird since I’m playing but I still try to follow them when I get the chance, and see if they win or not.
Me: What’s it like having your team win the World Series?
Doug: It was awesome. I remember that. It was a great feeling. Whenever your team is the best out there for a given year, that’s all you can ask for as a fan. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
My Dad: I want Grant to be able to experience that feeling.
Doug: I think everyone here wants to experience it for themselves and the fans. The fans are great here. That’s why we’re out here – for the fans. If the fans didn’t show up for the games, we would have different jobs.
Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?
Doug: I obviously played baseball. I played basketball all the way through high school too. I was pretty decent at basketball. I played football for a couple of years but I broke my ankle my freshman year so I gave that up and started focusing on baseball, playing baseball on the weekends down in Phoenix. I just played basketball to stay in shape but I ended up being a pretty good shooter.
Me: What are your hobbies?
Doug: I like golf. That’s kind of a hobby of mine. I listen to a lot of music. I’m kind of a music buff. I’m really not very exciting. I just kind of hang out and play a lot of xBox when I have some downtime. I go mountain-biking every now and then. Just stuff like that. I like to be active but I also just like to kind of hang out.
Me: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had to deal with?
Doug: Well, I’ve had two injuries my whole career. I had a little back issue two years ago and had to miss a couple of starts. I had to get an injection in my back. That wasn’t really that big a deal. I’d never really been injured until this last year when I got hurt in July and had to go on the DL, having minor surgery in September. That’s definitely my most serious injury. Coming back from that’s going to be a process.
Me: What was that recovery process like?
Doug: The rehab went slow at first, just getting my motion back for probably the first six weeks, not really doing much. Just icing it and getting the swelling down, getting the motion back, and getting used to using it again. After about six weeks, I started doing some strengthening and stabilization, getting everything around it strong. I’m about 15 weeks out of surgery. I’ve been throwing for about 5 weeks now. That was kind of slow at first. I wasn’t really sure how my arm was going to react, first of all from not throwing for a while and then, second of all, coming off an injury. I’m getting on the mound Monday or Tuesday and we’ll go from there and see how it feels. Hopefully it will go well. I think it will. My arm feels find so I’m ready to go.
Me: Thanks for doing the interview.
I would like to thank Doug for doing the interview with me. It was very nice of him to do that for me. He is a very good guy, who almost always comes over to say hi to me when he sees me.
Results of last week’s poll:
What do you think are the Rangers chances of signing Ben Sheets?
50-60% - 35%
70-80% - 32%
90-100% - 12%
30-40% - 11%
10-20% - 4%
0% - 3%
Come back next week for the beginning of my analysis of the Spring Training roster, with my predictions for who will make the team.