Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Rusch joined the Tigers as a minor league free agent prior to the 2005 season, spending a lengthy amount of time in extended spring training before joining the GCL Tigers in July, making seven appearances (6 starts) before the end of the season. Over 35.1 innings, Matt demonstrated exceptional control, issuing only two walks while striking out 16. In the end, Rusch finished his first season with the Tigers with a 3.06 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
The Tigers were impressed with his organizational debut, and vaulted him to full-season ball for the 2006 season. After appearing in 39 games (80.1 innings) for the Whitecaps, Matt finished with a spectacular 1.79/0.91 line. Possibly the most impressive statistic Matt posted was a paltry 1.12 walk rate per nine innings. Not until the season's final month – when asked to start two games – did Rusch's ERA exceed 2.00, or his WHIP exceed 1.00.
After another exceptional season, the Tigers again challenged Matt; this time with an assignment to Double-A Erie. The continuation of his accelerated career path has not seemed to phase him in the least. Working as a key 7th and 8th inning cog for the Seawolves, Rusch appeared in forty games spanning 53 innings of work. With only 18 walks and 55 strikeouts, Rusch again proved that he has the ability to get outs at any level. Matt finished the 2007 season with a 6-1 record for Erie, backed by three saves and a 3.40 ERA.
Despite the dominating performances, Matt has been protected by his time in the bullpen. His fastball is underwhelming, sitting in the 88-91 range with impeccable control. He can spot both the four and two-seam fastballs to both sides of the plate, as well as work the ladder when needed. While his velocity is below-average for a righty, hitters seem unable to see the ball out of his hand, allowing his fastball to get on the batter quicker than they expect.
Matt's breaking ball made nice strides throughout 2007, as Pitching Coach AJ Sager worked with him to refine his mechanics and tighten up the spin. As the season progressed, he began to command the pitch better and it also became a more reliable offering that he could go to in key situations. Rusch's change-up is nothing more than a show-me pitch at this time.
Matt's poise on the mound is outstanding; making him perfectly suited for high leverage roles, late in games. He refuses to become rattled, and often feeds off the energy of the moment. He is an average athlete who fields his position well and has a very good understanding of the tactical components of the game. Rusch profiles as a solid relief option in any number of roles.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG AA
Matt faced some fatigue in 2007 as he wore down late in the season. There is little concern over his long term health, but he will be monitored closely throughout the '08 campaign.
Rusch will head to spring training with a chance to crack the Toledo rotation, though with several more seasoned options ahead of him, it could be an uphill climb. He has the ability to get outs at Triple-A, and the Tigers would do well to continue challenging him early in the season to ensure he could help out at the big league level in an emergency.
Rusch will pitch the majority of the 2008 season at 25-years old, and because he has managed to fly through the system, his chances of contributing out of the Detroit bullpen have increased dramatically since the day he was signed. Don't be shocked if Rusch gets a chance to help in a Detroit bullpen that is indeed in flux heading into this season. He doesn't have the over-powering arsenal that the organization has a penchant for, but at some point you can't argue with success.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.