If Tyler Matzek had any nerves going into his first Pacific Coast League start, his teammates made sure to settle things down for him quickly.
Buoyed by a five-run cushion by the time he took the mound, the Rockies' No. 13 prospect dazzled in his Triple-A debut, striking out 11 over five innings as Colorado Springs coasted past New Orleans, 8-2.
A big first inning that included RBI doubles from Matt McBride and Kyle Parker got things started on the right foot. It was Matzek who ended the inning at the plate, grounding out as the Sky Sox's ninth batter.
"It frees you up knowing that 'Hey, I don't have to be perfect. I just have to keep it under five,'" Matzek said. "And that's a doable thing. Obviously, I'm still going to attack the zone and try to give up as few runs as possible, but it definitely gives me a huge comfort zone to just throw the ball in the [strike] zone and let my teammates do what they did behind me."
Selected 11th overall in the 2009 Draft, Matzek (1-0) bookended the first inning with strikeouts around a solo homer by Josh Rodriguez that ended up being his only blemish on the night. He fanned two more in the second, struck out the side in the third and two in each of his final two frames. Matzek whiffed five straight Zephyrs at one point and threw 53 of 83 pitches for strikes.
The 23-year-old left-hander, who had been relieving in Spring Training and competing for a bullpen spot with the big club until mid-March, transitioned seamlessly back to starting in his season debut.
"I try to take a very simple approach to it," Matzek said. "Baseball is baseball. My goal every time a hitter comes up is to get that guy out. I get him out by throwing one pitch at a time. For me, it doesn't really matter whether I'm starting, relieving, closing, cleanup guy, it doesn't really matter. I could be doing any role. My goal is to get the guy in the box."
Matzek's climb to the Minor Leagues' highest level has been an arduous one. After a stellar rookie season with Class A Asheville in 2010, he took a month off in 2011 to work with his amateur pitching coach and rediscover his mechanics. The California native led the California League with 153 strikeouts the following year, then went 8-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Tulsa last season.
The Sky Sox continued their assault on Zephyrs starter Adam Conley in the fourth when Josh Rutledge doubled in two runs to extend the lead to 7-1. He finished with three hits.
In an organization boasting impressive top-level pitching talent, the Sky Sox roster is no exception. Four former first-round picks opened the year in Colorado Springs, including Matzek and Christian Friedrich.
"We've got a bunch of veteran, really, really nice guys," Matzek said. "They've really welcomed me. I've been all ears, just listening to what they've got to say. They've been helping me out a little bit, I know I haven't done it yet, but pitching at elevation and the adjustments needed to be had for dealing with that."
New Orleans totaled four hits, including Justin Bour's solo shot in the ninth.
Conley (0-1), the Marlins' No. 5 prospect, surrendered seven runs on eight hits over four innings in his Triple-A debut.