St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Matt Pearce garnered attention by setting the Midwest League walk-free innings record and winning the league’s ERA title last season with the Low-A Peoria Chiefs.
Through the first half of the 2016 Florida State League season, Pearce is back at it again with similar results.
A native of nearby Bonita Springs, Florida, the right-handed pitcher has shined in front of his home crowd at High-A Palm Beach. With a fastball that resides in the high 80s and can touch 90 mph with a change, curve, and slider - Pearce is tied for fourth in wins in the Sunshine State League, ranks sixth with his 2.44 ERA and fourth with a WHIP of 0.96 through 15 starts this season.
The former Polk State College standout, who nearly his pitched his team to the Junior College Championship before passing up a scholarship at University of Tampa to sign with Cardinals in 2014, has set himself apart as the Beach Birds’ innings eater. Under the hot Florida sun, Pearce has logged a league-best 99 2/3 innings with a shutout and three complete games, including one in his Thursday night start against Charlotte (TB).
I spoke with Pearce following his complete game against the Stone Crabs. In the exclusive interview below, the 22-year old reflects on his breakout 2015, talks pitching in front of his family, his stuff, and plenty more.
Derek Shore: How do you reflect on your first full season with the Cardinals last year?
Matt Pearce: "It was a good. It was a good experience just getting that many innings under my belt and adjusting to better competition against guys who have a better idea of the game."
DS: Could you put into words being the Midwest League ERA Champion and breaking the walk-free innings record all in one season with Peoria?
MP: "It was a special year. I really turned it around in the second half. I went out there just to try to throw strikes every time and let my defense work. That's all I really do because I'm not a strikeout guy. I try to limit my walks, keep the ball down, and usually good things happen from there."
DS: To improve on a strong MWL season, what was your plan over the off-season and into spring training to make a solid impression?
MP: "Just keep doing what I was doing last year and working on my fastball command. Kind of polishing my off-speed pitches, which I think have come a long way. I started developing a slider, and it has come along pretty nicely. I think I have used all my pitches in games, so that has definitely helped so far.
DS: So far this year you are sporting a very good 2.44 ERA. What has made you so effective through the first half of the season?
MP: "I think going out there and being able to command my fastball. With that, my other pitches work a lot better when you can throw your fastball for a strike pretty much where you want to most of the time. I've been able to throw my secondary pitches for strikes as well. It really keeps on their toes, so they don't really know what's coming.
"I've just been doing the same thing and not really having many strikeouts. My defense has definitely been helping me a lot. My catchers are pretty good, too."
DS: You have been able to pitch consistently deep into games for Palm Beach, including a complete game Thursday night. Have you put more focus on endurance this year?
MP: "Not necessarily. I'm just going out there and pounding the zone. If you are doing that, you are most likely going to get a swing early in the count. For the most part, they are going to get themselves out. It's what I want to do - go deep into games - give my team a chance to win.
"It's always nice when I'm able to go deep."
DS: What has it been like pitching in front of family in Florida this season?
MP: "It's been awesome. I only got to pitch in front of them maybe one time my first two years. It's definitely been nice to have them come out to a bunch of my games.”
DS: Could you describe the advantages of pitching in Roger Dean and Florida State League?
MP: “It's definitely a big advantage. The ball rarely ever flies. Only in some ballparks. I mean, Roger Dean is probably one of the most pitcher-friendly parks that I've pitched in. It probably will be that I've pitched in.
“I've had some games where I'm grateful for the field I'm playing on.”
DS: Could you tell me about your repertoire of pitches and how you utilize them against hitters?
MP: “I have standard four-pitch mix - four-seam, changeup, curveball, and developing slider which I haven't used much. I only threw one slider last night, but my best pitch is my changeup. It's pretty much my out pitch.
“My curveball is not exactly an out pitch, but I throw it for strikes really well. That's why I'm trying to develop a slider to get more swing and miss on. I would say my only swing and miss pitch is my changeup.
“I think being able to locate my fastball helps my changeup a lot.”
DS: You alluded to the slider being relatively new to your repertoire. How has that progressed since you added it to your arsenal?
MP: “It’s something I can throw primarily to right-handed batters and keep them off balance. I've still got some work to do. I'd like to make it a little harder and being able throw it consistently for strikes, so every time they see it, they'll just take it, because I can't throw it in the strike zone.
“It's been better lately. Like I said, I didn't throw it a lot last night, but I probably threw 15 of them in my previous start. I think it's coming around and I'm building confidence with it.”
DS: What improvements can you make in the second half of the season?
MP: “Honestly, just working defensively. That’s definitely an improvement I can make. Just keep developing that slider and being able to move that around to both sides of the plate. That will really help me in advancing. Keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully it works out.”
DS: Have you set any goals for the rest of this season?
MP: “The same goals a lot of guys have. Just keep pitching well and hopefully finish this season higher than where I started it. That’s kind of the main goal in all of this is to move up in the organization. Hopefully I can give myself a shot by keep throwing well.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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