Matzek set to start for Asheville on Wednesday
Left-handeris scheduled to start Wednesday for low Class A Asheville, having rejoined the club over the weekend after a highly unorthodox and somewhat experimental leave of nearly three weeks.
Matzek flew Saturday from southern California to Greensboro, NC, where the Tourists were playing. Lon Fullmer, Matzek’s youth pitching coach since he was 10, accompanied Matzek and was with him when he threw 30-pitch bullpen sessions in Greensboro on Sunday and Monday. Fullmer flew back to California on Monday.
The Tourists concluded a series in Greensboro on Monday. They’re off Tuesday and begin a seven-game homestand Wednesday against Kannapolis.
The 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Matzek started this season at high Class A Modesto. But after going 0-3, 9.82 in 10 starts, Matzek was demoted to Asheville where he began his career last year. In three starts for the Tourists, the last on June 17, Matzek is 0-2, 14.00. He has pitched 42 innings overall with 61 walks and 47 strikeouts while yielding 49 hits.
After that June 17 start, the Rockies decided to take Matzek, 20, out of the Asheville rotation and have him to try to regroup throwing bullpen sessions and at least one simulated game. The Tourists were off June 20-22 for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and began second-half play June 23 at home. Assistant general manager Bill Geivett went to Asheville for that first series with Rome and had a long meeting with Matzek, who felt strongly that his best chance to rectify the situation was to return to California and work with Fullmer.
Matzek left the Tourists on June 26 and in concert with Fullmer in Coto De Caza, Calif., resumed a series of pitching drills and a conditioning regimen designed by Dr. Mike Marshall, a former major league reliever and winner of the Cy Young Award in the National League in 1974 when he made 106 relief appearances and pitched 208 1/3 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marshall’s tenets and pitching program have never found favor with and are typically scorned by those in Major League Baseball.
Fullmer, 58, is in his 10th year as a certified Mike Marshall pitching instructor. Fullmer said he teaches kids from 8 and up to do the full Marshall motion. With the lower half of the body, Fullmer said that is tantamount to using an outfielder’s crow hop on the mound, something Fullmer said is unaesthetic to the point of being repulsive and would lead to players being “summarily cut” in high school. So Fullmer has resorted to a “hybrid Marshall” approach by giving his pupils a leg lift and, hence, making their lower half look more conventional.
“The problem with the leg lift and Tyler is when you lift your leg,” Fullmer said, “you have a tendency to over rotate early counter-clockwise, kind of like Luis Tiant. And that’s where all the arm injuries tend to happen, because it makes you centripetal…
“And Tyler has been falling deeper and deeper into that whereas in high school, he was pretty much aligned and straight (to home plate), and he would stay tall and rotate around his right leg, his glove-arm leg, and rotate fully through his pitch during the acceleration phase.”
Fullmer called Matzek a Marshall hybrid pitcher, who at his best has a high arm slot and long stride, along the lines of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw or San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum.
While Matzek was back in California with Fullmer, Jon Lukens, the Rockies area scout in southern California who signed Matzek, visited and watched him go through the Marshall drills and train. So did Bo McLaughlin, the Rockies roving pitching coordinator.
“His jaw just hit the ground,” Fullmer said. “You could tell he wasn’t too happy watching Tyler throw an iron ball. But again, I kept repeating to him, the reason he can throw an iron ball is his mechanics are completely non-injurious when he does the correct transition at the back and the correct rotation over the top.”
Fullmer said McLaughlin, when leaving, told Fullmer, “ ‘Tyler better do this in secret and he better not do this in front of other players and the medical staff, because the other players with the iron balls and wrist weights, they can hurt themselves pretty badly.’ He’s probably right there, and I agree with him.”
The Rockies gave Matzek a franchise-record $3.9 million signing bonus. And because of that sizable investment, they took the highly unusual step of letting Matzek leave his team during the season and go outside the organization to work with a coach who guided him as an amateur, let alone one steeped in Marshall’s method.
“It is radical, but at that point in time, there was really nowhere else to turn,” player development director Marc Gustafson said, “because we were just beating our heads against the wall…I think it’s something that will not change who we are and what we do and it’s certainly not going to set a precedent. We’re trying to fix it. We’re not going to change anything that we preach based on one scenario.
“We had a kid that not long ago when he was with the team, he had no confidence, he had no sense of a delivery in terms of arm slot, feel of the baseball, where the baseball was going in terms of consistency in the strike zone to a guy I talked to (last week) who is full of confidence, full of energy, full of positive thoughts.”
Asked about the progress Matzek has made since he left the Tourists, Fullmer referred to alignment of the shoulder and hips on the field drive line, the line that runs down the middle of the field from second base through the mound through home plate.
“He needs to align everything up with that drive line,” Fullmer said. “It’s important that he steps to the inside of it and not across it. And he was almost 10 inches across. He’s adjusted and fixed that a little bit because I put his heel up on the rubber, so he couldn’t turn his heel towards home plate. By putting his heel up on the rubber, he can’t over-rotate early as far. His command is awesome; he’s down on the knees consistently.”
In the second bullpen session Matzek threw at Greensboro, Fullmer said Matzek was stepping 2 or 3 inches across the drive line. Not ideal but obviously better than 10 inches across, Fullmer said.
“As soon as you cut across that line, you can’t rotate through your pitch and you leave the ball out and your arm starts to come across your body more,” Fullmer said. “You’re more susceptible to injuries. It just kind of escalates from there.
“Tyler pronates (his arm on) every pitch. And I’m watching (Asheville) pitchers and half of them or even three-quarters are supinated where the thumb flies up. And that’s what causes all the injuries as opposed to pronating where the thumb flies down and the elbow pops up like Lincecum and Kershaw.”
Fullmer had praise for Asheville pitching coach Joey Eischen, saying “he’s not a cookie-cutter guy,” and that he “just wanted to learn the lingo and know what to tell him.” Fullmer said Eischen had some understanding of Marshall’s teachings because a couple minor league teammates followed the program and Eischen recalled being awakened to the sound of iron balls and wrist weights.
Where this developmental swerve for Matzek goes remains to be seen. The proof can only come in games, since the Rockies have been tantalized repeatedly by excellent bullpen sessions from Matzek, going back to last year when he went 5-1, 2.92 at Asheville but walked 62 in 89 1/3 innings.
Matzek, who is very precise and analytical, has shown a tendency to let negative thoughts creep into his mind quickly. The Rockies are hopeful Matzek eventually will be receptive to talking to Ronn Svetich, the organization’s highly respected mental skills coach. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Matzek during the season will be able to strictly adhere to the Marshall regimen, which involves a different daily training regimen and more throwing on the side than the Rockies and other organizations espouse?
“ If it works and Tyler has success, great,” Gustafson said. “We’ll figure out what we do (for) the next phase of this this season or offseason, if you will, trying to figure out what’s going to be best for Tyler. And if it doesn’t work, then we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.”
Meanwhile, a promising young pitcher, who has given the Rockies glimpses of greatness tries to get his career moving forward. And people in the organization are pulling for Matzek and pulling hard, not simply because he was blessed with a special left arm.
When Gustafson went to the California League-Carolina League All-Star Game last month at Modesto, it was shortly after Matzek made his third ill-fated start for Asheville. Those were not good times for Matzek, and Modesto pitching coach Darryl Scott, who had spent the first two months of the season with Matzek, approached Gustafson.
“The first thing Darryl Scott asked me is, ‘How’s Tyler doing?’ ” Gustafson said. “That’s a likable guy. That’s a guy people care an awful lot about. And they know he has a chance to be something very, very special.
“Nobody would say that if he’s somebody that is…fighting what we got going on, or if he’s somebody that is hard to work with. They’re not going to care about him. That’s just the reality of it.”