680THEFAN, ATLANTA – Baseball is a game of second and sometimes third and fourth opportunities. For some, they take it and make the most of it. Others find it hard to figure it out and end up moving on to the next chapter of their lives. For one Braves reliever, 2020 has been a story of tremendous redemption. When the Spring Training roster came out in late January, most fans probably glanced through the names and right on past 29 year old lefty Tyler Matzek. But, he caught the eye of not only Rick Kranitz and Brian Snitker in North Port, but also the Front Office as well.
Matzek, the former first round pick of the Rockies in the 2009 Draft (11th overall) made his Big League debut way back in 2014 as a 23 year old. As a rookie, Matzek was just 6-11 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 appearances (19 starts) with the Rockies. Then, the following season, he made just five starts in the Majors, walking more (19) than he struck out (15) in just 22 innings worth of work. He was dealing with not only control problems, but a bout of the ‘yips.’ Following surgery at the end of the 2015 season, he found himself released and looking for a new home. After a short stint with the White Sox, he moved on to the Seattle Mariners organization, but didn’t stick around long. So, on to Independent Ball it was as the southpaw inked a deal to pitch for the Texas Air Hogs of the American Association. His numbers immediately made a quick 180 as he struck out 93 batters in 88.2 IP. After a few months in the Diamondbacks organization, Matzek returned to Texas and had to be thinking he was near the end of his run. But after a solid summer with the Air Hogs, his contract was purchased by the Braves on August 14 of last year. After joining the Braves, he spent time with both Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, but neither of those would jump off the charts as he posted a 7.80 ERA in nine appearances back in affiliated ball.
So, there certainly were instances along the way where I’m sure Matzek considered walking away. But, through the first week and a half of the 2020 season, he’s become one of the most reliable arms from the already stout Atlanta pen. In four outings this season, Matzek has allowed just four hits over five-and-a-third scoreless innings with no walks or strikeouts. Even better, he earned the win in yesterday’s 4-0 blanking of the Mets, Matzek’s first Big League win since April 27, 2015…a span of 1,925 days. Coming into the season, we knew this pen was going to be one of the biggest strengths of this team. And if the team continues to get contributions like they have from Matzek and even Minter, this has the potential to be the best pen we’ve seen in Atlanta in decades.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet