MESA, Ariz. Joe Mathers wrist felt good enough to grab the job by the throat.
Thats how Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described the impression Mather made on the coaching staff and the front office this spring. After multiple surgeries, Mather finally feels healthy, and notices the ball jumping off his bat again.
Mather woke up on Friday hitting .418 with 11 extra-base hits, already knowing that he made the team. He appears to be over a wrist problem similar to the one that has plagued ex-Cub Mark DeRosa, whos been limited to just 73 games combined over the last two seasons and is now in camp with the Washington Nationals.
Its something that they tell you takes six weeks to heal, Mather said. And when you come back, you find out thats not necessarily the case. You lose a lot of the whip in your swing and kind of everything that you taught yourself to do. You have to adjust.
After years of frustration, its gone smooth enough that manager Dale Sveum has talked about riding out Mathers hot bat for as long as possible, and called him a perfect fit for a team that has left-handed corner players.
Sveum said the lineup he wrote out for Fridays game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Stadium looks like the one you will see on Opening Day at Wrigley Field against the Nationals:
1. David DeJesus, RF (L)
2. Darwin Barney, 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B (L)
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
6. Ian Stewart, 3B (L)
7. Marlon Byrd, CF
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Ryan Dempster, P
Mathers not in there, but it sounds like he can take some at-bats and become much more than the 25th man on the roster. He can play first and third base and in Sveums mind all three outfield spots at an above-average level. He once even pitched two innings for the St. Louis Cardinals during a 20-inning loss to the New York Mets in 2010.
I told him in his meeting: Youre a guy who can do a lot of things, Sveum said. Hes the kind of guy that you just ride out, whatever position it might be (and) hopefully it will last a long time.
Dont ever think youre just a bench player and youre not going to be pushing somebody to play every day.
Mather, 29, has spent time on the Triple-A level in each of the past five seasons. He went to high school in the Phoenix area and lives here in the offseason, which gave him a support system that helped him stay focused and relaxed during camp.
Mather showed enough power for the Cardinals in 2008 eight homers in 133 at-bats that you wonder how much more is in there now that hes back at full strength.
I think if someone would have told me that I (would have) this (kind) of camp, Mather said, I would have been jumping up and down. Its been awesome. They gave me quite a bit of opportunity and I was able to play well. It feels really good to take advantage.