It would probably be fair to say that Ryan Mattheus had a turbulent 2013 season.
After punching up a 2.85 ERA in 66 appearances in 2012, becoming the Nationals' reliable seventh-inning guy, Mattheus had the following happen to him in 2013: He broke his right hand punching a locker after a poor outing in mid-May, knocking him out of action for more than two months, posted a 9.00 ERA in nine games after his return, got demoted to Triple-A Syracuse for two weeks, and then pitched to a 6.57 ERA over the final month of the season back in the majors.
Mattheus' 2012 season made him a valuable member of the Nationals' bullpen. His 2013 season probably leaves him pitching for a big league job again in spring training next year. And that's a fact that Mattheus openly admits.
"The only way you can take (this season) is a learning experience," Mattheus said during the final series of the season. "Whether it's good or bad, you've got to take something from it. And if it's bad, you've got to take from it what made it bad and hopefully not repeat it. I had an injury that was self-inflicted, that was stupid, that was a bad idea, and it hurt the team. And it hurt my performance coming back, too.
"Once I got out there, I wanted to make up for it right away. I wanted to just get us over the edge, but I'm really not in a position to do that. I'll take some things away from this season, and I'll definitely have some motivation in the offseason to get better and have an impact and be a huge part of this team next year."
In a figurative sense, Mattheus beat himself up pretty good after literally beating himself pretty good. He knew that by breaking his hand he had hurt the team, and that made it tough during the two months that he was sidelined, as he sat and watched the Nats struggle.
"That's the hardest part is the mental side of it," Mattheus said. "I dealt with a lot of things. At first, the injury was tough. I didn't even want to show up (in the clubhouse). It was embarrassing. I didn't want to see fans, I didn't want to see my teammates, because I knew I had let people down. I knew I had made a stupid decision that affected a lot of people. I really felt bad for Davey and the position I put him in, the position I put Mike Rizzo in. So I felt bad showing my face around.
"But then, once I got over that, it was tough seeing the guys play. When they would struggle, when my situation would come up in the game, whether it got done (by someone else) or not, I knew that that's when I was supposed to be out there, and I wasn't out there for the guys. That was really tough. And then when I got back and I wasn't performing the way that I would like, the way I was used to performing, I wanted to do extra. And you can't do that. It was a mental burden on myself. I was doing things that weren't beneficial mentally, and I was trying to do way too much. And then each bad outing kind of snowballed that.
"If I had a bad outing, then the next one had to be great. And when you're a reliever, really, some of us can only get one out at a time. And that's how you've got to approach this game - one pitch at a time. And I was trying to fix my season from a one-inning standpoint. Mentally, it's tough to keep going. But the adversity that I went through this season is only going to make me a stronger person, first of all, and a stronger ballplayer from a mental standpoint. So am I happy with the way it went? No. But I'll take something from it and I'll be better because of it."
Mattheus says that he felt ready from a physical standpoint when he came back off the DL, but the mental side of things was lacking. Command has a mental component to it, too, Mattheus says, and even though he felt like he had gotten the physical kinks out on his rehab assignment, his command suffered because he "wasn't there" mentally. That left him trying to do too much every time he took the mound.
While the season has just ended, Mattheus is already ready for the 2014 campaign from a mental perspective. The eagerness to put the rough 2013 behind him is already there.
"I'm excited for this offseason. I'm excited for an opportunity next year," Mattheus said. "I'm in a position where I'm going to have to win a job. I'm going to have to win my job back. I'm looking at it that way, because I think when people sit down and look at it, they're gonna look at the numbers. They're gonna be like, 'Can he get it done?' So I've got to answer those questions. And I'm gonna be ready to go.
"I feel like this bullpen's best when I'm in it and I'm right, so I'm going to do it for myself and I'm going to do it for the other guys in that bullpen, because if I can throw a scoreless sixth inning, then it goes on down the road. It gives (Tyler) Clippard opportunities for holds, it gives (Drew) Storen opportunities for holds or saves, it gives (Rafael) Soriano opportunities for saves. It just helps our team. So I'm hungry to get after it this offseason and come back and answer any questions that I have about myself and any questions that anybody else has about whether I can still get it done."