READING - When the top of the seventh inning of Wednesday's Double A game between the host Reading Phillies and the Trenton Thunder began, many of those in the record crowd of 9,953 started making their way out of FirstEnergy Stadium. They had seen what they came for - an impressive outing by Pedro Martinez, his final tuneup before going back to the bigs.

It was kind of ironic that Scott Mathieson replaced Martinez on the mound, as Mathieson is attempting the biggest comebacks a pitcher possibly can make.

Mathieson, a 17th-round pick by the Phillies in 2002, is attempting a second return from Tommy John surgery. He will be the first to say that his journey is just beginning - again. Yet, his numbers can't help but make you think that maybe Mathieson, 6-3, 190, will be warming up at Citizens Bank Park, the same place where he heard that first dreaded pop in his right arm nearly 3 years ago.

The second of his Tommy Johns was performed in May 15, 2008 by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. After rehabbing his injury in Clearwater, Fla., Mathieson, 25, returned to action in late June and since has pitched in the Gulf Coast League, the Florida State League and now with Reading. He has thrown a total of 20 innings, allowing 10 hits and nine walks. He has allowed one earned run and struck out 21.

His third pitch against Trenton on Wednesday was clocked at 98 mph, and none of the fastballs he threw in two scoreless innings were slower than 95.

"So far, so good, knock on wood," Mathieson said, smiling from the Reading dugout after getting in his stretching and running before the Trenton game. "I expected it to feel like this but in the back of your mind you're always worried that you might still feel it and you never know.

"Throwing, I feel great now. Sometimes it gets stiff on bus rides, or when I wake up in the morning I'm achy. But throwing or whenever I'm doing an exercise or doing activities, it feels great. When I first came back I was a little nervous about my slider a little bit, but that's completely gone. I get up there and I'm right on it and I don't have any hesitation; my fastball, I'm just going through the motions and the velocity seems like it's been coming back."

Perhaps the euphoria is exaggerated a little due to the long and often agonizing rehabbing Mathieson has had to endure the past few years.

The Phillies called him up in June 2006 and he made nine appearances, including eight starts. It was his last start against the Atlanta Braves, on Sept. 2, when he heard that pop after six pitches. A few weeks later he was having his first Tommy John surgery.

He pitched briefly in 2007 in the farm system, but again started feeling pain in the arm.

"I was out there throwing and we had kind of a long delay because of an argument or something, then I started throwing again and I felt something," he said. "But I pitched through it and then I remember hearing a pop.

"They said it was a nerve, so I went and got [nerve surgery] done and it really didn't get any better. That's a 4-month recovery, they say, and at 4 months I couldn't even throw 60 feet. My arm was killing me still."

Then came the visit to Dr. Andrews and another surgery named for the former Dodgers and Yankees pitcher, in May 2008.

The rehab was a long, familiar and bumpy road. And the odds of a return to baseball were seriously diminished compared to the first time he had the procedure.

"Dr. Andrews told me the stats and said stats don't lie," Mathieson recalled with a smile. "But most guys that have a second Tommy John surgery are older guys or guys that might not have the chance to get back. I'm trying to take advantage of my age. Right after surgery I'm laying in bed and I have casts on both my arms. There was, I won't say doubt, but there were concerns. It was the mental aspect. Driving to Clearwater every day [from his home in Pasco County for rehab] was hard. And after the 600th day of doing it, I was wondering what I was doing it for. It felt like I had taken 10 steps backwards and zero forward. I thought of Plan B, but never thought of giving up [baseball].

"Dr. Andrews was pretty confident before the second surgery. He said, 'I'll fix you, I'll fix your arm. Your elbow will be perfect but it's going to be up to you to get back and pitch. Structurally and mechanically your arm will be fine. The problem is you never know how you'll rehab or how you'll come back.' When I went back to see him about a year after the surgery and told him I was throwing bullpen and feeling great, he said, 'Wow, I guess it really did work.' "

The native of Aldergrove, British Columbia, is affable, endearing and overjoyed to be where he is, even if it isn't how he envisioned it. He says he has a new appreciation of what it takes to play the game at its highest level, and is enjoying the hard work it is taking him to try to return there.

"Making it up there that first time was pretty memorable and something no one can ever take away from you," he said. "It was a dream to do that. To get back there now, I think, is even a bigger feat after what I went through. I want to prove myself and prove that I can really contribute up there. Last year after watching the World Series it was almost a bittersweet thing. I know everybody on the team. It's great to see it, but I wanted to be up there so bad. It makes me that much hungrier to get back.

"When I signed, my dad told me never to have any regrets and to have fun. I always think that I would kick myself if I didn't give it my best. I want to go out on my own terms. I don't want to have to retire because of injury and never know what could have been."

His 98 mph fastball and his penchant for strikeouts have Phillies fans still wondering what might be.