Mechanical Change Helps Matt Packer Excel

Akron Aeros’ starting pitcher Matt Packer is the cornerstone of the starting rotation. Other pitchers have come and gone over the last few months but Packer has remained. He is in the top ten in the Eastern League in ERA and he leads the Akron Aeros in ERA, starts, and innings pitched. After a bit of a slow start, he has come on strong in his last three starts giving up a total of three runs. He has shut his opponents out in three of his 10 starts and given up three runs or less seven times.

Packer was a 32nd round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2009 out of the University of Virginia. That first season he pitched five games out of the pen with a 2.38 ERA. In 2010 Packer rocketed through the system, reaching Double-A in just his first full minor league season. That season he pitched in 24 games for Lake County making 13 starts. He had eight wins with a 1.60 ERA before getting called up to Akron towards the end of the season. For the Aeros he made five starts with a 3.16 ERA. In 2011 he spent the entire season in Akron winning 9 games with a career high 129 strikeouts and only 33 walks for a 3.91 strikeout to walk ratio. He was rated by Baseball America as having the best control in the Indians minor league system.

Turning heads with his work on the mound, Packer led the Eastern League in innings pitched with 169.1 and finished second in the league in starts with 27 in 2011. He looked to be on track to climb the ranks to the Major Leagues. Heading into spring training in 2012 Packer was ready to move up the ladder, but shoulder soreness kept nagging at him. The heavy workload from a season earlier took a heavy toll on his arm, and Packer was forced onto the disabled list to begin the season. He severely pulled a muscle in his rotator cuff and it kept him off the field until June 26 and then pitched in only 14 games. Packer bounced back to post a 3.70 ERA in those 14 games and headed into 2013 with some momentum at his back.

“It feel’s great,” Packer said of his pitching arm. “My shoulder feels 100%; I haven’t felt this good [since 2011].”

Don’t let his 2-5 record on the season fool you; he is one of the best pitchers on the Aeros staff. He owns a 3.25 ERA through 10 starts. In 61 innings pitched he has struck out 41 batters. Every time he takes the hill he gives Akron a chance to win. Packer has been outstanding as of late, earning himself Minor League Player of the Week honors just this past week. Over two starts he went 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA. He pitched a combined 13 innings with 13 strikeouts, including career high 10 strikeouts in seven shutout innings on May 24.

After a bit of a slow start, Packer was able to turn things around with some help form Akron pitching coach Greg Hibbard. Coach Hibbard noticed Packer was thinking too much and it was affecting his performance. Packer would stare at the catcher’s glove so long he would sort of zone out and lose focus.

“I’m staring for so long I start thinking about something else,” Packer said, “[Hibbard] had me start my windup, move my head then pick up the target later. It’s something little and so simple, but it works.”

The adjustment has worked and Packer has been lights out since the change.

“I feel like a new pitcher,” Packer said, “It has completely changed me. I can focus on one thing instead of two or three things running through my head at one time.”

Thanks in part to Packer’s pitching, the Aeros have won four of their last five games. They took two out of three games against the Harrisburg Senators. The rubber match of the series was a 15 inning affair. Packer started the game and pitched very well. He went seven strong innings giving up two runs on seven hits and striking out six. The Senators held a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning and closer Aaron Barrett came on to slam the door on the Aeros. With one out, Akron first baseman Jesus Aguilar tied the game with a mammoth home run. The score would remain 2-2 until the 15th when Carlos Moncrief singled up the middle with bases loaded to win it for the Aeros.

Akron then took two out of three against the Reading Fighting Phils to improve their season record to 26-31. The Aeros currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern League Western Division, six games out of first place.

Photo: David Monseur/Akron Aeros

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