Matzek's perseverance rolls on in 2024

April 1st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PHILADELPHIA -- ’s successful return from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow stands as the latest example of the great perseverance he’s shown during what has truly been an inspirational journey.

Matzek was a highly-touted prospect after the Rockies took him in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft. His rise to the Majors wasn’t exactly smooth, and soon after he arrived in Colorado in 2014, he developed the yips and spent years battling both physical and mental struggles.

The left-handed hurler was pitching in front of hundreds of fans for the (now defunct) Texas AirHogs in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball in 2019. Two years later, he made a sold-out Truist Park rock with what may have been the greatest postseason relief appearance in Braves history.

But nothing has ever come easy for Matzek. Just when it looked like he was finally on top of the mountain, he was tested again. His injury-plagued 2022 season ended with him undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. So, the fan favorite was restricted to bystander status in ‘23 as the Braves produced one of the best seasons in franchise history.

Experiencing all of these twists and turns added to the appreciation Matzek felt as he tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings in a 12-4 win over the Phillies on Saturday.

“It was a close game -- that’s what I wanted to go into and just be treated like any other guy,” Matzek said. “I just wanted to go out there and do what I was supposed to do, which was hold the lead. I felt good. I was excited to get the first one out of the way. Now, we go.”

Matzek entered to face Kyle Schwarber with two outs and a runner on third, with the Braves leading, 7-4, in the fourth inning. Braves manager Brian Snitker’s decision to create this lefty vs. lefty matchup at a key early moment displayed confidence in Matzek’s potential return to form, the type of form that produced a 2.64 ERA over 90 regular season appearances for Atlanta from 2020-21.

This stretch was highlighted in Game 6 of the 2021 National League Championship Series. He preserved a 4-2 lead over the Dodgers when he entered in the seventh inning and struck out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr. and Mookie Betts with runners on second and third. He added one more strikeout in a perfect eighth inning.

Matzek’s steady progress over the past months has given him and the Braves hope he might again have a chance to create some more memorable postseason moments.

“It’s been slowly building,” Matzek said. “Hopefully, this is the floor and I just keep getting better from here.”