New year, new Matzek

After battle with performance anxiety, lefty ready for 2016

New year, new Matzek

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Tyler Matzek is thankful for a new, clean calendar.

Matzek finished the 2014 season with a 1.55 ERA in his final six starts. But he crashed dramatically as soon as 2015 began. In five starts he went 2-1, but hit a trio of batters and walked 19 in 22 innings and was sent to the Minors after a messy May 6 start when he lasted just two innings. He never returned to the Majors, but his time was eventful nonetheless.

After a disastrous start at Triple-A Albuquerque, when Matzek gave up seven runs, walked seven and hit a batter in one inning, he was removed from competition for a month. After three rough starts at Short-Season Class A Boise, he actually went home and didn't pitch again for a month.

During his ordeal, Matzek, 25, came to grips with performance anxiety, a psychological issue that figuratively paralyzed him on the mound and even on days leading up to starts. But Matzek, who in a recent story in the Denver Post said he was destructively pressing himself to be even better than he was at the end of 2014, began to turn the corner after seeing a therapist.

But Matzek actually began turning the page when he returned to Albuquerque in August. He posted a 3.48 ERA and collected one save in nine relief appearances, covering 10 1/3 innings.

From his home in Laguna Niguel, Calif., Matzek spoke to with enthusiasm about the coming season. He said once the psychological issue was under control, his delivery was a simple fix. Now he is out to reclaim a spot in the Rockies' starting rotation, or in the bullpen if that turns out the available role.

On flipping to a new year:

"Right now is the start of a new year, and the most exciting part about that is you know Spring Training is right around the bend, and you're excited. This Spring Training is not going to be any different. I'm excited to get back out there and right the wrongs from last year."

On whether he plans any symbolic burial of 2015:

"I've already put all that behind me, so there's nothing for me to burn or get rid of. In a game that is full of superstition, I try not to be superstitious. I know that for a lot of people it's nice to have something you can control, whether it's getting rid of your glove or socks or whatever it is. But I feel it's looking for something to blame, I guess.

"It takes power away from the athlete. 'If I can blame something, I don't have to feel bad.' Now, there is a difference between superstitions and routines. I've never been a superstitious guy."

On coming to grips with performance anxiety:

"When I went on my little rehab assignment to Boise, the ball wasn't coming out right and it was the worst it had been. I could tell something was wrong, but I could also tell that I wasn't in the right mindset to fix that physical thing. And I needed to go ahead and fix that.

"When I went home, I would go down to the beach in the evening, take a stroll. It was a way to step back from baseball, get my mind off it -- kind of a meditation thing.

"When I saw the therapist, that's when things started to become a lot clearer. He opened my eyes up to it, and let me know that it really wasn't that big a deal. It really helped me."

On the difference between last year and 2011, when he took time off from Class A ball -- two years after being drafted in the first round out of Capistrano High School in Mission Viejo, Calif.:

"Last year was something that had never really happened before. The first time, it was just a lack of confidence, a not-believing-in-myself kind of thing. This time it was more a physical anxiety attack kind of thing, and I didn't know how to deal with it. Now I do. I learned to deal with it toward the end of last season, and have the right approach to this season."

On the successful relief appearances at Albuquerque:

"There wasn't much time left in the season, so they didn't have time to build me up to 100 pitches. But as a reliever you can throw every other day. It didn't matter that I wasn't starting. It was facing hitters, going through the process I was taught and working on that, day in and day out. I was happy with the way the season ended."

On his aspirations for 2016:

"I've been told to prepare to start, but the bullpen is an option. That's fine with me. I'd like to be in the rotation. I feel I'm a starter, but anything to help the team is fine with me, too.

" I just want a great year when I get back on track and end the year with no doubts. I want the Rockies to know they made the right decision for hanging onto me for so long."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.