When Chris Matulis toes the rubber this spring, his mind is not in the same place as it was in 2009.
Just a freshman during LSU’s National Championship, Matulis made a home in the midweek, appearing in 13 games and starting seven. He finished the year with a 4.82 ERA and 6-2 record, good for the third-highest number of wins on the staff.
Despite the success in the win column, his Achilles’ heel became walks, a total of 15, many of which came in big-pressure situations. The inability to curve the rising total, Matulis said, kept Mainieri and pitching coach David Grewe asking for more.
“I wasn’t in my game of what I usually do,” Matulis said. “I walked a lot of guys and just didn’t hit my spots. When you look back, I was behind in a lot of counts. If I had done that in the SEC, I would have gotten hit a lot. You put guys on base and that hurts you.”
In the first pressure spot of the 2010 season, Matulis turned the corner.
During the first inning of the Sunday game against Arkansas, Matulis faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam. In contrast to his freshman form, he took to the dugout with just one run allowed. Matulis then blanked the Razorbacks over the next four frames to get the win.
The following weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., Matulis relieved Anthony Ranaudo after two innings, earning his fourth win behind five innings of five-hit, three-run ball.
“Chris has made a big jump with his game,” Mainieri said. “His body is in better shape than it ever has been, he is more dedicated and more disciplined. He has taken that dedication and it has translated into a confidence and competitive zeal on the mound.”
For those wondering what motivated the extra push in the offseason, look no further than Matulis’ mirror image on the mound, the 6-foot-7 right-handed Anthony Ranaudo.
Roommates with Matulis and fellow juniors Austin Ross and Micah Gibbs, Ranaudo’s drive for improvement has apparently spread across the apartment.
“Anthony has been a tremendous influence on him,” Mainieri said. “Anthony is probably the most disciplined athlete I have ever coached. That work ethic has rubbed off. Those three are all a year older than Chris, but there influence has been great.
“[Matulis] will admit he didn’t have the focus and dedication last year that he has this year. That focus and dedication made him feel like he earned success.”
Knowing that he finally had the chance to make the move into the rotation, Gibbs said, was another driving factor behind Matulis’ emergence. And given that the tall, lefthander has a fastball in the low 90s and an increased command behind the rest of his arsenal, the Tiger catcher is excited about what Matulis could bring into the mix, alongside Ranaudo and Ross, on the weekends.
“The way he throws his strikes with all of his pitches and holds runners so well is what is great about Chris,” Gibbs said. “He mixes well with his changeup and breaking ball. [At 6’5”] You don’t see that very often.
“He has been waiting his time. When he finally got his chance on a weekend, he threw really well.”
While Matulis is off to a great start (4-0, 2.31 ERA), he still doesn’t have Mainieri’s full vote of confidence. After 15 walks in 2009 were looked down upon, Matulis’ 12 this season are just as unsettling.
“He still walks entirely too many batters for my liking,” Mainieri said. “But now he has the fortitude to get out of those jams. When he got in a jam [last season], it cost the team.”