Jeff Mathis is more than just a backup catcher for the Marlins. He’s the only catcher in the organization — other than regular starter Rob Brantly — with any major-league experience.
That’s why manager Mike Redmond was downcast Saturday upon learning that Mathis had sustained a broken collarbone in the Marlins’ Grapefruit League opener.
“Obviously a big blow for us,” Redmond said. “Just a freak deal.”
Mathis was injured in the fourth inning when the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday fouled a ball off the catcher’s chest protector. Despite the padding, the ball still hit hard enough to fracture Mathis’ right clavicle.
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Redmond said he could be out six weeks.
“It just got me square,” Mathis said. “It hit me in the pad. It’s just one of those things, catches you just right. Been hit there a lot of times. It felt like any other foul tip I’ve taken off the mask, off the shoulder, off the hand.”
Mathis didn’t know something was seriously wrong until he tried to throw the ball back to the mound following Brad Hand’s next pitch to Holliday, a ball that put Holliday aboard with a walk.
The catcher left the game immediately and was replaced by Kyle Skipworth, who is the only other catcher on the Marlins’ 40-man roster.
Skipworth, a former first-round draft pick, has never played above Double A. Though he hit 21 homers for Double A Jacksonville last season, he also struck out 143 times in 420 at bats and hit just .217.
Thin at catcher
The Marlins have three other nonroster catchers in camp, none of whom have played in the majors. As such, the team will more than likely look around the league for experienced backup help.
“We don’t have a ton of depth behind the plate,” Redmond said. “We’re pretty young back there.”
Redmond, a veteran of 13 big-league seasons, discounted any chance of making a comeback at age 41 as a player-manager. Redmond hasn’t played since 2010.
“I don’t think so,” Redmond said when asked about the possibility. “I like the way my body feels right now.”
Mathis was acquired from Toronto in the 12-player trade with the Blue Jays. Though he’s only a career .198 hitter, Mathis has worked 477 games behind the plate.
The Marlins were counting on the veteran to not only provide backup help for Brantly, but to also serve as the rookie’s mentor. Brantly, 23 has played in only 31 big-league games.
“He’s gonna play a leadership role for sure with Brantly, help him along,” Redmond said. “I’m crushed for him.
“I feel bad for us, but bad for him. He’s great around the young guys.”
Redmond said he’s not concerned that Mathis will now miss valuable time during spring training learning a new pitching staff.
“He can catch,” Redmond said. “Him learning the pitching staff, I’m not that worried about. He can handle those guys.”
Mathis said about the only good news is that the fracture is not displaced.
“I’ve had a broken face, broken hand, broken wrist,” he said. “But I’ve never messed my collarbone up.”