Friday, August 12

How Tyler Matzek went from yips to Braves’ best reliever

When Braves manager Brian Snitker stepped onto the mound to take the ball from Luke Jackson and hand it to Tyler Matzek on Saturday night, it felt like the game, and maybe the series, were on the line.

It was the top of the seventh inning, and after knocking down Dodgers batters all night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, Atlanta had given Los Angeles a chance. An opening double by Chris Taylor, a walk to Cody Bellinger and an RBI double by AJ Pollock made the game 4-2. Suddenly, the Dodgers were one hit away from tying the game with no one out.

Matzek enters. The left-handed flamethrower struck out Albert Pujols, struck out Steven Souza Jr. and struck out Mookie Betts, stranding the tying run (Pollock) at second base and moving the Braves within six outs of one spot in the World Series.

Matzek said after the game that he hoped to at least strike out the first hitter. He felt that if he could get that out first, then he could afford to give up a sacrifice fly and potentially walk away with the lead.

“Luke got in there, he struggled a bit, an unfortunate hit that went down the left field line (Taylor’s double). He’s taken me out of those situations many times this season, so it was time I paid him off,” Matzek said. . “It was just being aggressive and doing it for Luke, trying to keep those runs from scoring him.”

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It didn’t end after that. Matzek also pitched the eighth inning, striking out the first batter he faced before throwing a pair of grounders on a 1-2-3 frame. He put the ball and the flag in the hands of Will Smith.

After a 1-2-3 ninth from Smith, Matzek and the Braves were on their way to the World Series.

This is likely not a future that many saw for Matzek a few years ago. Before the 2020 season, he had not appeared in a major league game since 2015. He had to recover from a case of yips, working hard in the minor and independent leagues, before returning to the majors with the Braves. .

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First round selection

Coming out of high school in Mission Viejo, California, Matzek was seen as one of the best preparation arms in the 2009 MLB Draft class.

Baseball america ranked him No. 9 overall in the class. The Rockies decided he would be their man, taking him 11th overall.

He showed immediate promise in the minors. Matzek finished his first professional season with a 2.92 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings in 18 Low Single-A starts in 2010. His 62 walks were high, but that was to be expected of a high school student who still he is learning his trade. . Baseball America listed him as No. 23 overall. in his 2010 prospect ranking.

Matzek continued to struggle with control issues in the minors, but finally made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2014. He posted a 6-11 record with a 4.05 ERA in 117 2/3 innings, with 91 strikeouts and just 44 bases per. balls. He started 2015 in the majors and pitched with a 4.09 ERA in 22 innings, but walked 19 and struck out just 15. He was sent back to the minors on May 8.

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According to MLB.comMatzek discovered over time that his problem was performance anxiety, commonly known in baseball as the yips.

“When you throw the ball behind the batters and you have no idea where the ball is going as a southpaw, that’s usually a pretty good indicator that something is wrong,” Matzek said in March 2020. “I feel comfortable now. I feel comfortable. that is over “. with. I am ready to begin this next chapter of my career. “

He was sent all the way to the short Single-A season in June 2015. He underwent year-end surgery and then pitched all of 2016 in the minors, with a 6.75 ERA in 33 appearances, all in relief. He walked 33 batters in 26 2/3 innings. The Rockies cut him after the season.

Working his way back to the big leagues

Matzek held onto two different organizations in hopes of reviving his career. He signed a minor league contract with the White Sox in 2017, but was released in March and did not play that season.

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Matzek told The Denver Post that he was about to quit baseball while trying to continue his career, and that only his wife, Lauren, kept pushing him.

“In 2017, when no one was picking me up, I was at home in California, playing ball,” Matzek said. “Or rather, I was trying to play catch, throwing the ball all over the place. I basically told Lauren that I was done and that I was going back to school. I told her that we were going to have to find out the rest of our lives. . “

Matzek said his wife told him that she believed in him and that he needed to keep trying to stay in the game.

Matzek signed another minor league contract in early 2018 with the Mariners, but was again cut before the season.

He then signed with the Texas AirHogs of the Independent American Association. He still struggled in 2018, but he also started to improve. He signed a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks in 2019, but it was cut in May. He returned to the AirHogs on June 9.

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A conversation with AirHogs team president Billy Martin Jr. convinced Matzek to try a higher arm angle, according to The Denver Post.

Matzek said the change helped him relax and he started to think about his pitching.

“That little thing changed my command and my (speed), everything,” Matzek told the Post. “Then I kept throwing, throwing, throwing. I think that got the yelling out of me.”

The Braves purchased his contract on August 15 and shipped him to Double-A Mississippi before moving him to Triple-A Gwinnett. Atlanta put it on their Opening Day list in 2020.

Braves relay ace

Matzek has made an impact on his return to the Major Leagues.

In 2020, he pitched a 2.79 ERA and a 1.92 FIP in 29 innings. He struck out 35.5 percent of opposing hitters and, perhaps most importantly, only walked 8.3 percent.

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Coming out of the COVID-19 shortened season with renewed confidence, Matzek continued to dazzle in 2021, pitching to a 2.57 ERA in 63 innings with a 3.20 FIP. The strikeout rate was still the British pound at 29.2 percent and its slightly higher, but still manageable walk rate at 14 percent.

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In 2021, only his fellow southpaw AJ Minter had a higher WAR in the regular season among Braves relievers. according to Fangraphs, and Matzek’s probability of victory of 1.92 added he was the best in the team.

“He’s the reason we’re here. I mean, he just showed up in all those defining moments and, like, there’s just no description,” NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario told MLB Network’s Heidi Watney via an interpreter after Game 6. “Every time we needed him, he came for us and was the key to getting us out of the bullpen.”

So far this postseason, Matzek has thrown to a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. He has allowed two runs and four hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts.

Saturday was the first time the 31-year-old Matzek pitched multiple innings this postseason, but he showed no trouble shooting those scoreless frames and playing as crucial a role as anyone in leading Atlanta to the World Series.

Snitker said he remembered Matzek’s 2020 spring training when he struck out hitters but couldn’t remember his name. Now, not many people will forget it.

“‘What was his name? He wasn’t on the list. Maybe we should bring this kid here,'” Snitker said. “I have so much admiration for him, for what has happened in his career. There is another, it has not been easy for him either, and he has had to go back a lot to get ahead and how he has handled everything.” that amazes me. Just perseverance and everything this guy has been through. “

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