The Indians can now only imagine what it would have been like for Michael Matuella to pitch a full season in Spokane.
Matuella, the Texas Rangers’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com, pitched three scoreless innings to open the Indians’ Northwest League season on June 17. But his time in Spokane didn’t last long.
The right-hander was shut down for the season after a right elbow ligament sprain.
Spokane pitching coach Joey Seaver says Matuella started to experience discomfort in his elbow in the third inning of his three-inning start. Mautella’s only two walks of the outing occurred in that inning.
“We didn’t learn about it until we got into the clubhouse after the game,” Seaver said. “As an organization or a team, we would have never pitched him if we knew one thing about him being tender or hurting.”
The Rangers are being cautious with Matuella, who underwent Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) as a junior at Duke in April 2015. Barring any unexpected setbacks, Matuella is not expected to have surgery.
After the sprain was discovered, Matuella received a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection a week after leaving Spokane and is undergoing rehab at the Rangers’ facility in Surprise, Arizona.
The Rangers hope further strengthening of his throwing elbow will prevent future injuries.
“Obviously with an elbow you never know,” said Paul Kruger, the Rangers' assistant director of player development. “But we’re confident that the work he puts in, the preparation as well as the injection itself.”
Texas provided Matuella a few options after he was diagnosed with the elbow sprain, which included resting with the team back in Spokane. He didn’t want to postpone the rehabilitation process.
“We gave him some options and he really wanted to go back there and really get going,” Kruger said. “I think that’s a testament to who he is and what he wants to become. Not only in the short term, but in the long term.
“He knows the more he can do now to get his body stronger, get his arm stronger to help anything that might be occurring … he’s willing to put in the work.”
Another part of the plan for Matuella is to send him back to Spokane for a few games, solely to be a part of the team and give him a break from rehabbing in Arizona.
“We’re all excited about seeing him up here,” Seaver said.
Since Matuella left Spokane’s rotation, the Indians rotation has struggled without their opening-day No. 1 starter. Spokane’s 4.57 ERA is last in the Northwest League.
Matuella’s departure has taken a toll on the Indians pitching staff, but for Seaver, it’s more than just losing his ace.
“It was very tough, not just for us as a team or as a pitching staff. I think we all feel more hurt for him,” Seaver said. “We saw how hard that young man worked to come back from his surgery, and you just hate to see that happen to a man that’s worked that hard to come back.
“We really feel for him more than anything.”
Matuella’s injury history is a concern, but the Rangers are high on his potential. And it extends beyond his 97 mph fastball.
“You see his arm, you see the physical specimen that he is, you just hope all the work he puts in to maximize his talent plays out,” Kruger said. “And we think that with the type of person he is, it will.”
From Saturday: Spokane won the final game of a five-game series with Salem-Keizer, topping the Volcanoes 7-1. Indians starting pitcher Kyle Cody, who honors his late brother with every start, put together a stellar outing. Read about it here.
Standings watch: Spokane is still in last place, but the Indians are only one game back of first after Vancouver fell to Boise 4-3 on Sunday. There is now a three-way tie between Everett, Vancouver and Tri-City for first place in the Northwest League North.
Tonight: The Indians begin a three-game series with Vancouver in a key North division series. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Follow @joshhorton22 on twitter for live updates.