Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 88 Days
Reliever Phil Maton added his name to the exclusive club of 88s in Tribe history when he took the mound for Cleveland on August 15 of last season. He joined a short list of previous members of that group, which included utility man Rene Gonzales (1994) and fellow reliever Josh Outman (2014).
Maton, a 26-year-old right-hander out of Louisiana Tech, was a midyear addition by Cleveland in another bullpen-focused transaction with the San Diego Padres. Picked up for international bonus pool money with San Diego in need of 40-man roster spots with a flurry of transactions pending, Maton joined the Tribe and initially reported to Triple-A Columbus.
After a few weeks with the Clippers, Maton was on the move as he was recalled by Cleveland three times in August, finally making an appearance on the third of those transactions. He spent the remainder of the regular season with the Indians, working 12 1/3 innings over nine outings. His numbers showed some promise, as he struck out 13 in that stretch and allowed just a .098 batting average against, but six walks bloated his numbers some. After allowing runs in three of his first four appearances, he closed the season without allowing an earned run over his final five games and he racked up at least one K in all nine Tribe appearances.
Maton entered the pro game in 2015 when he was taken in the 20th round of the draft by the Padres after his time at LA Tech. He debuted with San Diego in June of 2017 after a rapid rise through the farm system and had an encouraging campaign that season, going 3-2 in 46 games with a 4.19 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. While a 9.6 strikeout per nine rate was the lowest for him at any point in his baseball development, it was still promising. A 2.1 homer/nine rate helped inflate his overall numbers.
He was in the big leagues again in 2018, making 45 appearances for the Padres in his second season of work. He went 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP, seeing a jump in his strikeout rate (10.5) and a drastic drop in his home run rate (0.6), but he suffered some from an unhealthy boost to his walk numbers (4.4 per nine after a 2.9 mark the previous year).
Maton was on the move all year long in 2019. He started the year with the Padres, but the first batter that he faced took him deep. After two more appearances, he was optioned to Triple-A El Paso, but he was back with the Padres by the middle of the month. Another option after giving up homers in back-to-back appearances sent him back to the Chihuahuas for several weeks before an extended call back to San Diego happened in early May.
Maton stuck around and settled in (after giving up five runs over his first three games back) during a busy May that saw him take the mound eleven times. The roller coaster ride continued as he moved back to New Mexico to start June, but midway through the month he was back in southern California. He was shelled in four of five outings and as July started, he was back in the minors again. After two more outings for El Paso, he was dealt to his second professional organization on July 12.
Maton’s age and previous results could help him find his way in the Indians bullpen mix moving forward. He has shown some good swing-and-miss potential throughout his career and he has posted strong strikeout numbers at every level consistently, with exception of that of the MLB. Command can get him at time, but he has shown an ability to miss some bats and have a low percentage of hard hit balls and barreled up balls. He is a three-pitch pitcher, relying on the four-seam, curve, and a slider/cutter (he has called it a slider, but it has registered as more of a cut fastball), and he thrives working low on the left-handed hitter’s side of the dish. His velocity has not been dominating, as his straight four-seamer averages 91 (topped out at 94), but with above-average spin rate he can keep that heater up in the zone better than others, using the pitch in the past as his two-strike knockout pitch (his pitch spin is notable enough that he has used the nickname “Spin Rate” as his Players Weekend uniform name). He has good disparity between the other two pitches, with his slider averaging a 7 MPH drop from the fastball and the curveball sitting 7 MPH below the slider. The slider has seen an increased workload over the last two campaigns as he has continued to try to work low and away from right-handed hitters.
The big league body of work for Maton has been minimal (121 games, 3-4 record with one save, a 4.82 ERA, and a 1.40 WHIP with 134 strikeouts in 127 innings), but the hope is that he can find some of that minor league magic to become a serviceable arm for manager Terry Francona out of the bullpen. He has been much sharper on the farm, posting a 12-8 record with a 2.07 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in 118 career relief appearances, with much more intriguing per-nine rates (13.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and a 6.6 H/9 in five minor league seasons compared to a 9.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and a 9.1 H/9 rate over three MLB campaigns).
With a second look with the Tribe, Maton will hope that he can elevate both his four-seamer and his game and carve himself out a spot in an evolving Indians bullpen.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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