Braves' stellar bullpen led by 'The Death Star'

October 8th, 2020

Brian Snitker chuckled Wednesday, when he heard that Darren O’Day nicknamed “The Death Star” because he is the secret weapon that comes out of the Braves’ bullpen and destroys everything.

It is a nickname that could fit the entire bullpen. The unit threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Marlins in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday afternoon. Atlanta’s bullpen has a 0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings in four postseason games, allowing eight hits, one run and four walks while striking out 24.

Matzek struck out one in a scoreless seventh inning in Game 2 after striking out the side in the sixth inning in Game 1. He has allowed two hits and struck out eight in 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Snitker said. “You learn more about guys and the route he took here. He just continues to get better and better. When we got in this postseason, he elevated his game. ['The Death Star'] is probably a good nickname for him. His stuff has gotten better and better. I’m as happy as I can be for him. He’s a wonderful person. You’re happy and really rooting for guys like that.”

Matzek almost walked away from baseball after being set back by performance anxiety -- also known as the yips -- for years. After being a first-round Draft pick of the Rockies in 2009, he made his big league debut in '14. He started to struggle the following season, unable to find the strike zone and not knowing where the ball was going when it left his hand.

But Matzek made his way back. He said he did not want to look back at his life at 70 or 80 years old with any regrets.

Matzek impressed the Braves in Spring Training and again in Summer Camp. He went 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA in 21 appearances, striking out 43 and walking 10 in 29 innings. He had a 1.53 ERA in his last 12 appearances in the regular season.

“Matzek is extremely talented,” O’Day said before Wednesday’s game. “He’s been through a lot to get where he is. It’s really an inspiring story of perseverance -- just hearing some of the lows he’s been through and now kind of reaping the rewards of just keeping battling through that.

“Right-handed, left-handed -- you could put guys in both boxes, and I think Matzek could throw a fastball and curveball by both of them. It’s just plus stuff across the board, and he’s just attacking hitters right now and it’s fun to watch. One of the unsung heroes of this year is Matzek. Whatever role they put him in, he’s going to give you his best, and it’s pretty good.”

O’Day, Matzek, Will Smith and Mark Melancon each pitched in the first two games of the NLDS. It is unclear who might be available to pitch in Game 3 on Thursday afternoon. O’Day has not pitched in three consecutive games in three consecutive days since Sept. 17-19, 2017, although he has done it 22 times in his career. Smith has done it 17 times, and Melancon has done it 21 times; both have done it at least once this season.

But the Braves should be fine, given they have plenty of other solid options. Chris Martin, Shane Greene, A.J. Minter, Josh Tomlin and Jacob Webb are rested and ready.

“We’re OK,” Snitker said. “We’ll probably stay away from a couple of guys tomorrow. We’ll wait and see, check with them when we get here tomorrow. The guys that pitched did it really efficiently, but we have three more games potentially to play. We have to be aware of that also. We’re in good shape. We still have some bullets down there.”

Lots of them, maybe even their secret weapon.

“The blessing that we have is that our bullpen is so strong and so tight and so close that I think the starters don’t feel like they need to do too much, because they know they can hand it over to them and give us an opportunity to hold the other team at zero,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “That’s exactly what happened today and exactly what happened yesterday.”