Phil Mattoon is still angry, but now he saves his anger for opponents

Milwaukee – Phil Mattoon is fishing like crazy. Aiming or bombing, mid-turn hero or lucky loser, his ruthless demeanor does not change. Onlookers wonder if he ever would. Mattoon’s emotionless expressions have earned him a reputation among the Astros’ fanbase, making them inspirational At least one Twitter account And many other memes from his time on the Hill.

“I usually get really angry sometimes,” Mattoon said. “I just feel like any time you show a lot on the field, the game finds a way to come back and get you, so I try not to poke the bear in any way or get too high or low when I’m out.”

Maton holds himself to an almost unattainable level. He’s been one of baseball’s best catchers this season, yet he doesn’t expect outward complacency. To hear Mattoon describe it, the happiness of one outing might make him content. His next appearance is always the most important.

“To a certain extent, that can be a bad thing, obviously,” Mattone said, “with a plate in my hand now.”

On October 5, after his last regular season outing, Mattoon punched his locker at Minute Maid Park and broke the fifth metatarsal on his hand. Surgery to insert the plate prevented Mattoon from scrambling in the postseason, robbing him of an opportunity to contribute during the World Series race. Al-Moreeh stayed with the club throughout its 13-game trip and participated in the three champagne celebrations, the only instances in which he was able to relax.

“You’ll see situations where I was supposed to be thrown in and (I was) kind of hoping everything would run smoothly and there weren’t any situations where things went sideways and that was a situation where I could help the team,” Mattoon said this week. “Very stressful in that aspect. But it was really nice to see a front row seat to watch it and not have the actual pressure on the field of being in the game.”

Make no mistake: Mattoon would have welcomed that tension. He’s got it now — and the 30-year-old right fielder is thriving, perhaps the most underrated weapon in one of baseball’s best games. His 0.77 ERA ranks third among eligible relievers in the major league. Mattoon’s 0.514 WHIP is the second lowest, after Baltimore genius Yenir Kano.

Entering a Friday series opener against the A’s, Mattoon threw 23 1/3 frames and faced 84 batters. Fifteen have reached the base. Maton throws 69 percent of his kicks in strikeouts, allowing opponents only 368 OPS, and he’s only issued two walks.

Of the ten hits landed against him, seven were hit singles, which calls into question whether Mattoon should move up the team hierarchy—if he wasn’t already. Hector Neres and Brian Abreu are the two most common bridges to the Ryan Pressley closer, but Mattoon could turn out to be the team’s firefighter, the pitcher that manager Dusty Baker turns to mid-inning with the runners on board and the game in danger.

Mattoon doesn’t boast the kind of solid arsenal Abreu possesses, nor does he have the long late-playing experience that Presley and Neres provide. Instead, Mattoon handles a four-seam fastball averaging 89.6 mph and a curveball he can’t stop throwing—even if it’s not part of the team’s plan.

“We didn’t go out and say, ‘Hey, you need to throw the curve ball more,’” said pitching coach Josh Miller. “We just said, ‘You need to throw it consistently in good positions,’ and he did. What we found is that you can throw it a lot if you throw it in good places. He lands it, tosses it in and under the area to get some chases. It was really good to see him.”

Opponents are 1-for-40 against Mattoon’s curveball this season. After throwing 31.6 percent last year, Mattoon used it 42.5 percent of the time during those first two months. Mattoon can manipulate his speed from anywhere in the 60’s to mid 70’s. At an average of 3203 rpm, its spin rate is in the 98th percentile. It has a negative run value of -9, according to Baseball Savant. The Astros’ single pitch performance in a game has never been better.

“At the moment, I can play better than the others,” Mattoon said. “The slider, I still let go more than I want to, but if I need to bury the pitch, the curve ball, I have more confidence in getting it and doing it now. If I can get my slider in, I’ll probably lean on it a lot more, especially against Right-handers, but if I need a floor, a curveball is the one I’ll go to because I can execute it at a higher rate.”

Mattoon’s injury delayed his offseason buildup by about a month. He did not throw his first training session until January and reported spring training slightly behind other Astros relievers. Mattoon assumed he’d feel refreshed as a result, but this week he admitted he’s feeling “the same way I usually do.”

Perhaps as a byproduct, the velocity on Mattoon’s four-seam fastball is down nearly two miles per hour from last season. Its shape is dramatically different, though it hides the steepness. His four seams now have a natural cut that they didn’t before, with an average of 3.4 inches of horizontal break. Last year, it averaged 1.3.

Mattoon couldn’t pinpoint the reason for that — he speculated aloud that it might actually be the plate in his surgically repaired right hand, but he laughed when asked if that was actually rooted.

“It could be range of motion where I don’t have full range of motion or pronation. But I think it’s more likely a bad habit at camp and I like the result and kind of kept it,” Mattoon said. Whereas I usually block it a little better and get a more efficient spin of the ball. I kind of leaned into the wound near the end of the camp.”

For most of his tenure with the Astros, Mattoon relied primarily on his four-seam fastball. Now, with more cutting, he is free to use it on other lanes to keep opponents off the curveball and slider. After being shelved when he left Cleveland, Mattoon resumed throwing his traditional two-seam fastball the previous June as well, after the Astros noticed right-handed hitters perching on his slider. He helped author a second-half comeback, culminating in a 14-outing walk spanning August 25 to October 3, during which he allowed two earned runs.

Mattoon is not wired to rest on this production. He injured his hand after an 18-pitch walk against the Philadelphia Phillies on October 5. He deflected two earned runs, had one catch, and delivered a single to his younger brother, Nick, during a blitz that brought both teams to the first step of their dugouts.

At the time, Baker admitted that he and Phillies captain Rob Thompson had arranged for the brothers to face each other, ostensibly a feel-good moment in a nonsensical game. It didn’t end up as they imagined for Phil, who is one of the most approachable, approachable, and easygoing players around when reporters are inside the Astros.

“It’s so out of the ordinary for him, I just didn’t expect it to happen,” Miller said.

After shaving his season ERA to 3.58 with that aforementioned stretch, Mattoon came out with a clip of 3.84. On the day the injury was announced, Mattoon — on his way to his final journey through the refereeing process — mentioned his bloated early recovery era before calling his actions “selfish” and making no “excuses” for what he did.

Mattoon made $2.55 million this season in his final year of arbitration eligibility. So far, he’s authored the kind of walk every freelancer craves. Extending this distinction is Mattoon’s next challenge. So balance the anger it fuels with everything violent.

“I’ve thrown in my fair share of gloves and screws,” Mattone said. “Hitting things is not something I did. It was that kind of anomaly. Obviously I shouldn’t be hitting hard things, so it’s very easy to fix and never do again.”

The scar running a few inches across his right hand is a reminder.

(Top photo of Mattoon sporting a rare uniform smile: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)


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