GREENSBORO The buzz on Michael Matuella as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 MLB draft has grown throughout the season, in coaching and baseball insider circles. Wednesday, though, he made the mistake of overusing his fastball.
"Obviously, when you have the kind of arm that that kid does, you’re going to want to throw your fastball," Clemson designated hitter Tyler Krieger said, verbalizing the thinking behind the Tigers’ approach: hunt fastballs.
Clemson made solid contact on Matuella after the first time through the lineup. Krieger provided the biggest blow, a two-run double that led to a 5-3 win over the Blue Devils in both teams’ opening game of the ACC tournament.
Matuella wasn’t drafted out of high school, when his velocity was in the mid-to-high 80s. Since arriving at Duke, the sophomore has ditched his four-seamer and pushed the speed on his two-seamer in the mid-to-high 90s on good days, and he is most effective when he mixes in his curveball, slider and change-up. The potential development of those pitches, along with his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, have scouts and analysts expecting big things for him in the future.
In the present moment, though, Matuella was effective the first time through the lineup, generating four swings and misses and four strikeouts against one hit and one walk. The second time around, though, Clemson put seven hard-hit balls in play — five for hits — and Matuella generated no swings and misses. He didn’t get his next swing and miss until the seventh inning, when he faced Krieger for the fourth time. Krieger ended up walking and went 2-for-3 on the day with two walks and two RBIs.
"They started sitting on the fastball, and my fastball started to get elevated a little bit," Matuella said. "When that starts to happen, the two-seam doesn’t move as much, and they put a lot of good swings on the ball today. I have to do a better job of getting the ball down and mixing it up a little bit more."
Duke led 2-0 going into the fourth inning, thanks a dropped foul ball by Clemson third baseman Weston Wilson that gave Chris Marconcini another opportunity. He reached on an infield single and, with two outs, scored on Ryan Deitrich‘s home run over the fence in left-center field.
But in the fourth, the second time through the Clemson lineup, the Tigers had figured out Matuella’s fastball and waited for it, putting aggressive swings on the ball. Three consecutive hitters swung at the first pitch, all fastballs. A Garrett Boulware single — the Tigers’ third consecutive single — drove in Steven Duggar to close Duke’s advantage to 2-1.
"They saw I was throwing fastball first pitch pretty frequently," Matuella said. "That’s where I have to do a better job mixing it up."
Clemson took the lead for good in the fifth, when Krieger laced a two-run double down the right field line. Though he didn’t record any strikeouts after the first time though the lineup, Matuella did pitch into the seventh inning, saving the bullpen for later games this week. His final line: 6 2/3 innings, eight hits, three runs, three walks and four strikeouts in 106 pitches.
"He certainly gave us a good enough start to win the ballgame," Duke coach Chris Pollard said.
The problem, though, was that, outside of Deitrich’s home run, offense was scarce for the Blue Devils, continuing a season-long problem.
"The difference in the ballgame was up until Chris Marconcini hit the ground ball to first base with one out in the ninth, we didn’t make an infielder make a play all day," Pollard said. "We were content to pop the ball up in the air. We had talked about the importance of forcing their infielders to make plays, and we didn’t adjust as the game went on."
Clemson starter Matthew Crownover used his fastball and change-up effectively through 7 2/3 innings, limiting Duke to five hits and two runs while walking just one and striking out nine.
The Blue Devils made it interesting in the ninth — but only after surrendering two more runs to Clemson. Two two-out walks forced the Tigers to bring in closer Matt Campbell (a move they preferred not to make to save him for later in the week), and Deitrich drove in one run with a single to right. One batter later, Mike Rosenfeld’s fly to center field, which was caught on the run by Clemson’s Tyler Slaton, ended the game.
Dropping the first game makes Duke’s path to the Sunday championship game more difficult. Thursday’s game against Georgia Tech and Saturday’s contest against Miami are must-wins.
"I like our ability to pitch the rest of the way," Pollard said. "It will be a matter of us being able to make some adjustments at the plate. If we do that, I like our chances."
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less