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Down under: Spokane Indians pitcher John Matthews comes at hitters from different angles

UPDATED: Fri., June 28, 2019

Indians pitcher John Matthews poses for a photo Wednesday  at Avista Stadium in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Indians pitcher John Matthews poses for a photo Wednesday at Avista Stadium in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

There are as many pitching techniques as there are pitchers. Usually, when a pitcher finds a delivery with which he has success, he tries to refine and perfect that motion.

Almost never do you see a pitcher implement two distinct pitching deliveries during an appearance.

That’s what makes Spokane Indians starter John Matthews unique.

Matthews throws most of his pitches with a fairly standard over-the-top delivery. But on occasion, he will drop down and throw with an exaggerated sidearm motion.

There have been sidearm pitchers since the beginning of baseball, but they are a rare breed.

Some of the more famous MLB sidearmers were Hall of Famer Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators of the early 1900s, Kent Tekulve of the late ’70s Pittsburgh Pirates and Dan Quisenberry of the ’80s Kansas City Royals.

Current players using the motion are Steve Cishek of the Chicago Cubs, Darren O’Day of the Atlanta Braves and former Spokane Indians reliever Alex Claudio of the Milwaukee Brewers.

But for a guy to do both is almost unheard of.

“It’s almost ‘submarine,’ so it’s unique to have a slot up top and all the way down there,” Indians pitching coach Cody Aden said. “Normally, guys that mix it are kind of sidearm to begin with and they drop even lower. But it’s a true over-the-top slot. It’s a unique look.”

Matthews grew up as a shortstop, a position at which throwing sidearm is common and beneficial. Around age 12, when he started pitching, he realized he could also use the motion on the mound.

“I had always thrown from the sidearm angle, especially when I was playing in the field,” Matthews said. “It was something that I started doing, honestly, just to mess with batters, just because I thought it was fun. It was cool, something different, right?

“But as I got older, I realized how much it actually worked for me, and how effective it can be against guys at any level.

“I can essentially be two different pitchers if I want to be.”

“It’s deception at its finest,” Aden said. “It’s hard to quantify deception. But changing the delivery by release point by 3 feet is pretty deceptive.”

It’s similar to last year for the Indians, when Hans Crouse would add a shimmy or a wiggle to his delivery with two strikes just to give a hitter or something to think about.

It’s just another option to have in case Matthews needs it.

“It’s something that if all my pitches are working over the top, I may go to the sidearm angle a handful of times a game,” he said. “But if it’s effective, and I’m using it early, I’ll just keep using it throughout the game.

“And – I love to do it.”

Matthews has always has support in throwing from two distinct arm slots.

“My pitching coach at (Kent State) was awesome. He loved that I did it,” Matthews said. “He worked with me, he helped me grow as a pitcher from my freshman year until now. That was just something that he saw as being very effective, especially at against hitters at the college level.

“We had plenty of conversations about it, and about how I can be even better from down there in order to play at the professional level.”

From his over-the-top delivery Matthews throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, slider and changeup.

Sidearm, he throws a four-seam and a slurve. In just the few weeks since he has signed with the Rangers, he’s picking up a two-seam as a sinker from underneath.

“I’m trying to learn new pitches from down there,” he said. “I’ve never really had any pitching coach that has really seen many sidearm guys. So I’m trying to cut out my four-seam from down there and just sticking with the two-seam sinker pitch.”

“The fact that he can throw multiple different pitches from that submarine slot is kind of what makes it,” Aden said. “Some guys that like to drop down … can normally only go with one pitch or two pitches down there. He can throw the whole arsenal from both slots.”

Matthews has proved to be a quick study. In one appearance in the Arizona Rookie League, he struck out two in one inning. In his one appearance for the Indians on Monday, he struck out two in two shutout innings and allowed one hit.

“When I have my mind set on something, I love to ask questions, I love to learn new things,” he said. “So once I am told something new, I just want to work on it as much as I can in order to make it effective and add it to my arsenal of pitches.”

Mathews was a little nervous pitching in front of big crowd at Avista Stadium, but he adjusted quickly.

“After I got the first batter out, I settled in and I felt perfectly fine,” he said. “It’s just like any other time I was out there.”

Matthews was one of a group of nine 2019 draft picks to join the team after the season started. Even though the core of the team was together for two months in Arizona and has been in Spokane for almost two weeks, Matthews said the “new guys” have fit in just fine.

“Everybody here has been very welcoming,” he said. “I mean, the guys, no matter who they are, what round they went in, if they were high draft picks, late draft picks, everybody has been very nice and very embracing.”

Matthews said he hasn’t set any goals in his first season in pro ball except to play hard and be dependable for his teammates. He said he hasn’t had much time for socializing or hobbies lately with finishing college and getting started with the Rangers’ organization.

“You know, baseball is my life,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always known. So when I have my time to relax, I like to watch Netflix, do whatever it is that is calming for me that day.”

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