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Phillies righthander Scott Mathieson struggled early on this season, allowing nine earned runs over his first 11 1/3 innings at Double-A Reading.
But he's settled in over his last three starts, going seven innings in each, and carrying a 23-4 strikeout-walk ratio over those 21 innings.
"I guess I changed a little bit from the beginning," Mathieson said. "I was so hyped up over those first two starts just trying to blow everybody away. My game plan is always to attack, attack; and the results weren't there because I was probably pressing a little too much.
"Now I've just tried to slow it down and just pitch."
As a result of being all amped up to be on a Double-A mound for the very first time, Mathieson's fastball command was erratic and his slider had little bite–which led opponents hitting at a .266 clip in his first two outings.
"My slider was just awful," Mathieson said. "And when I didn't have that, I was lacking a huge thing for me. It's good for me to be able to learn to go out and pitch without my best stuff, but it was hanging a lot. So that was pretty frustrating. But it's come around over my last three starts and that's probably been the biggest key."
This might be his first time experiencing Double-A hitters, but perhaps no other pitcher making that jump got the experience the 22-year-old Canadian did over the offseason–pitching in the Arizona Fall League, the Olympic qualifier and finally for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
Well, except maybe Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen, who was with Mathieson at all those stops.
"The hitters are a little more patient here, and I just have to keep working ahead," Mathieson said. "I think the AFL helped the most, to be honest. It taught me a lot about working ahead and staying ahead, which is huge for me in the way I pitch."
And that is in the style of a power pitcher, as Mathieson features a low-90s fastball that peaks at 96, a hard, 86-87 mph slider and changeup. A 17th-round pick in 2002, Mathieson fronts a solid Reading rotation that also features lefthanders Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood, and says he's having more fun this season than last year–when he spent the entire season at high Class A Clearwater, who finished 41-95.
"We're starting to gel a little bit more," Mathieson said. "Last year was tough and this year, it's been a little more relaxed. We're all good friends and we pick each other's brains a lot. It's good having two quality lefthanders next to you to talk to about how they attack hitters differently than maybe you do."
Nothing Slow About It
In his fifth strong start of the season, Twins righthander Kevin Slowey finally picked up his first win yesterday for high Class A Fort Myers. The 21-year-old righthander held Dunedin to one unearned run on two hits and no walks in six innings, while striking out five. He improved to 1-0, 1.53 with a 34-2 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings.
A second-round pick out of Winthrop last year, Slowey has pitched at least into the sixth inning in every one of his five starts this season and has allowed no more than two runs in any start. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder is not overpowering, but he has held Florida State League hitters to a .168 average by commanding his average fastball and outstanding changeup. Slowey's excellent control is nothing new; he led NCAA Division I with a 134-13 K-BB ratio in his junior year last spring.
"He's been very, very good on a pretty darned good staff," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said. "With him and (Matt) Garza, (Anthony) Swarzak and (Kyle) Asleton there, it makes you dream a little bit about the future."
Nothing Fazes Barden
A slow start is nothing new for Diamondbacks utilityman Brian Barden, whose three-hit weekend for Triple-A Tucson raised his average 20 points, to a still-paltry .222/.364/.321. "I struggled at the beginning of last year, too," Barden told the Tucson Citizen. "It takes me a little while to come around. I am a slow starter but once I get going . . ."
Tucson interim manager Lorenzo Bundy seconded the assessment: "It's just a matter of confidence," he told the paper. "He's a worrywart sometimes. Usually, when he's going bad, he's not doing a whole lot different when he's going good."
Barden, 25, is a natural third baseman who can play all four infield spots, but hasn't yet seen seen time at shortstop because Stephen Drew is also a Sidewinder.
• After making 34 consecutive starts since 2004, Giants lefthander Jonathan Sanchez has made his last two appearances as a reliever at Double-A Connecticut. Coming out of the pen isn't anything new for Sanchez, however, since he was used as a reliever for Gigantes in Puerto Rico during the winter. Sanchez has been solid this season for the Defenders, going 2-1, 1.86 with 31 strikeouts in 19 innings . . . Low Class A Hickory first baseman Steven Pearce went off over the weekend, hitting three homers against Lexington. The 23-year-old is now hitting .289/.333/.689 with nine homers (tying him for the minor league-lead with Double-A Springfield outfielder Reid Gorecki) and 26 RBIs in 90 at-bats . . . Cubs lefthander Rich Hill, the club's No. 5 prospect, will make his 2006 major league debut Thursday in place of Glendon Rusch. Hill, 26, had shown improved control at Triple-A Iowa, where he logged 33 strikeouts and just seven walks in 25 innings . . . Wrapping up April, here are the hottest teams across the minors with one month of games in the books: Charlotte (18-6) and Albuquerque (17-7) lead the Triple-A circuit; Altoona (15-8), Chattanooga (16-9) and Springfield and Corpus Christi (both 15-9) are tops in the Double-A leagues; In high Class A, San Jose (15-7), Kinston (15-7) and Palm Beach (16-7) lead their respective leagues; and in low Class A, it's Lansing (17-5) and Rome (17-5) on top. On the flip side, the worst team in the minors is low Class A Kannapolis, which finished April with a 3-20 record.