Normally a reliever coming in to pitch the eighth inning is not big news. Then again, Tyler Matzek is not usually a reliever.
The former Colorado Rockies starter entered Friday night’s Albuquerque Isotopes game in relief, just the fifth appearance of his career in that role at any level. It was also his first appearance for the Isotopes since he gave up seven runs and seven walks in one-plus inning back on May 13.
After that rough start, the Rockies put Matzek on the inactive list and later sent him to short-season Single-A Boise, where he made three relief appearances and gave up six runs and eight walks in 2.1 innings. Following that stint from June 19-24, Matzek was shut down.
In his return to action, Matzek walked three but did not give up any runs in the Isotopes’ 8-6 loss to the visiting Grizzlies, who swept the four-game series. Fresno was the same team that tagged Matzek for all those walks and runs back in May.
“I saw some good things from Tyler,” manager Glenallen Hill said. “One, he has such great mound presence. Seeing him get back on the mound under these circumstances I think was huge.
“He made good pitches, he never seemed to lose his composure. A couple pitches we thought were close didn’t get called. He didn’t let that have any negative effect on him.”
As he warmed up in the bullpen during the seventh inning, Matzek said he was able to draw upon some past experience in relief in the Arizona Fall League. Back in 2013, all 10 of his appearances with the Salt River Rafters were as a reliever.
“I had a little bit of experience doing that and I think I worked out all the kinks there of a routine for a bullpen guy,” Matzek said. “I felt pretty good. I just needed to go out there and throw strikes and do a job. Coming out of the pen it’s pitching, it’s 60 feet, 6 inches.”
Matzek walked Joe Sclafani and Max Stassi on full counts to start the eighth. He then struck out Andrew Aplin looking on a 2-2 count and got Jonathan Villar swinging on a 1-2 count.
“I was just trying to throw the ball,” Matzek said. “I think two months ago I wouldn’t have been able to get out of that situation right there.”
Alex Presley then drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases for Fresno (71-48). Matzek composed himself and got Matt Duffy to fly out to right field on a 1-2 count to escape the jam.
“I felt fine with those two walks,” Matzek said. “I felt I had a couple big misses but for the most part some of them were pretty close.
“They weren’t terrible, terrible walks. They didn’t rock my confidence at all. I felt good and I just needed to attack the zone. I got two strikeouts and a popup.”
Matzek’s outing showed both promise and that there is still work to do. He will remain in relief for the remainder of this season, Hill said.
“We definitely have a player plan for Tyler Matzek,” Hill said. “For right now he’ll be pitching out of the ’pen.”
As for the rest of the game, it was more of the same for the Isotopes (51-69) against the Grizzlies, who have won 11 of 12 games in the season series. Albuquerque scored four runs in the first inning and just two after that in the fifth and ninth innings.
Fresno got three in the second and four in the third to take the lead for good. The Grizzlies benefited from three Isotopes errors, which meant six of their eight runs were unearned.
Albuquerque will hit the road for eight games, starting with a series at Memphis on Saturday at 5:05 p.m. Left-hander Aaron Laffey (2-3, 4.83 ERA) will start for the Isotopes while the Redbirds have not named a starter.
Around the Lab: In addition to Matzek, the Isotopes also added right-hander Eddie Butler, who was sent down by the Rockies. They take the roster spots of lefty reliever Ken Roberts and righty reliever Gonzalez Germen, who were recalled by Colorado.