“A little unconventional.”
That’s how Albuquerque Isotopes reliever Tyler Matzek summed up his season so far.
The 2009 first round draft pick broke spring training in the Colorado Rockies starting rotation, but has battled severe control problems caused by anxiety issues on the mound that he is now anything but shy to talk about.
The 6-foot-3 left hander, who did not play in Monday’s 5-4 win over Oklahoma City at Isotopes Park, posted a respectable 2-1 record and 4.09 ERA in his five Major League starts. But he also walked 19 batters in 22 innings of work, leading the Rockies to send him to Albuquerque to rediscover his control.
That didn’t exactly work.
On May 13, Matzek’s debut with the Isotopes, he allowed seven earned runs off one hit and seven walks while completing just one inning (he came out for the second inning, but was pulled before registering an out).
The Rockies sent him to extended spring training in Scottsdale before deeming him ready to return to game action a month later as a relief pitcher with the Class A, Short Season Boise Hawks.
In his first two appearances, he pitched two scoreless innings, but walked three. Then, on June 24, Matzek allowed six earned runs off five walks and a hit better before being pulled after registering just one out.
“I had some mental triggers that kept coming up,” Matzek says. “I had some anxiety on the mound. I would just kind of lock up mentally.”
So much so, the Rockies were at a bit of a loss, deciding to shut down the 24-year-old prospect, sending him home to California for some relaxation and some work with a specialist on the anxiety he was experiencing on the mound.
“We still believe he’s going to be a top-of-the-rotation-type guy, and we’re trying to get him back here,” Colorado Rockers manager Walt Weiss told MLB.com in June.
Matzek said the time away from the game, while he opposed the move initially – “I’m a competitor. I wanted to go out and compete and work through this.” – made all the difference.
“We worked on some of those triggers,” Matzek said. “It freed me up on the mound. Made a couple physical adjustments and then I started throwing the ball better. It feels better than it did before.”
His semi-sabbatical ended Aug. 14 with a return to the Isotopes bullpen, where he walked three hitters, but also completed a scoreless inning.
Over the past two weeks, Matzek has had four relief appearances, all scoreless, one-inning affairs, including a 1-2-3 inning on Sunday night, which he said was an outing he felt as good about as any he’s had all season.
“He is back and he looks very comfortable doing what he’s capable of doing,” Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill said.. “… He’s a stud. That’s what I see.”
Of Sunday night’s outing, Matzek noted that he let one pitch get away from him early, but he didn’t shut down as he might have earlier in the season.
“(Sunday nigh) felt really good,” Matzek said. “I think I had one ball get away, but the thing I was most happy about was when I had that one get away – usually that would give me an anxiety strike, but it didn’t. I was right back attacking the (strike) zone. … I’m feeling good now and just trying to move forward.”