Mathes hopes to have another breakout season for the Cubs
High expectations are running through Iowa Cubs’ pitcher J.R. Mathes’ mind to begin the 2010-11 season — and they should be. The left-handed pitcher is coming off one of his best seasons in the triple-A organization, compiling a 12-8 record, 3.62 ERA and the Iowa Cubs Pitcher of the Year Award. With the regular season just hours away, Mathes says he’s ready for another breakout season.
“Last year was phenomenal because a lot of things ended up going my way, and that’s credit to my work ethic and my teammates and coaches backing me up,” Mathes said. “Your whole goal is to improve, but if I can repeat what I did last year, I’ll be just fine.”
Mathes will be in the starting rotation for an Iowa Cubs team that finished the 2009 season with a 72-72 record, five games out of first place and in third place in the American Northern division in twhe 16-team Pacific Coast League (PLC). The Cubs open the regular season on Thursday, April 8 against the Nashville Sounds. The Thursday evening game is the first of an eight-game homestand at Principal Park through April 15. The Cubs have averaged 6,309 for home openers since joining the PCL in 1998.
“It’s nice to start the season at home and hopefully get off on the right foot,” he said. “When you’re on the road, you’re living out a suitcase and there are a lot of distractions. Starting the season at home is comfortable.”
“Comfortable” is a word that describes Mathes when on the mound. He was a 2009 PLC Mid-Season All-Star and credits much of his success from pitching coach Mike Mason, who begins his third season with the Cubs.
“Since Mike was a left-handed pitcher, it’s been a lot easier to work with him,” Mathes said. “He’s been able to teach me that in triple-A pitching isn’t all about mechanics, but more about approach. It’s the day-in and day-out things that will make you better. I’ve had a great time working with him.”
While players will come and go this season, one of the mainstays will be the manager hiring of MLB Hall of Fame inductee Ryne Sandberg. The 2010 season will be Sandberg’s first with the Iowa Cubs and his fourth year as a minor league manager in the Chicago Cubs’ organization. Sandberg replaced Bobby Dickerson.
“It’s not every day that your manager is one of the greats,” Mathes said. “He brings a lot to the game of baseball — his knowledge is irreplaceable. He has a certain confidence that motivates you — that makes you want to play harder.”
Mathes also believes this year’s team has the experience to make a championship run.
“One of the biggest strengths is that we know each other well,” he said. “Each guy understands the triple-A environment, and there’s a comfort level with each of us.”
At the same time, Mathes says the Cubs must start the season correctly.
“Even though we have a long season ahead of us, we want to start the season off on the right foot,” he said. “A bad start can set a tone that we don’t want in the clubhouse. We’re just looking to take it one game at a time.”
Locker Room note: The Iowa Threshers will hold tryouts on Saturday, April 10 at the John R. Grubb YMCA, 1661 11th St. Tryouts begin at 11 a.m., and athletes should bring non-padded workout attire. Participants must be 18 years of age or older. Registration is $25 and begins at 10:30 a.m. Register early at www.eteamz.com/iowathresherfootball. For more information, e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Call Marcus Bell at 554-6555 or Troy Alexander at 865-1019. CV
J.R. Mathes and the Iowa Cubs open the regular season Thursday, April 8 against the Nashville Sounds. Photo courtesy of Iowa Cubs