Matijevic delivers big blow for River Bandits

Astros No. 20 prospect hits three-run homer in MWL Finals opener

J.J. Matijevic was drafted 75th overall by the Astros in June out of the University of Arizona. (Rich Guill/Quad Cities River Bandits)

By Curt Rallo / Special to | September 13, 2017 11:55 PM ET

FORT WAYNE, Indiana -- Swing decisions have been an issue for left fielder J.J. Matijevic, who joined Quad Cities on Aug. 28 to replace the injured Troy Sieber.

In the opener of the Midwest League Championship Series on Wednesday, there was no doubt Matijevic made the right decision with two on and two out in the first inning.

The Astros' 20th-ranked prospect crushed a three-run homer over the right-center field fence, capping a five-run outburst that sent the River Bandits on the way to a 6-3 victory over Fort Wayne in Game 1 of the best-of-5 Finals at Parkview Field.

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Matijevic, selected 75th overall in this year's Draft, batted .125 in six regular-season games with Quad Cities after hitting .240 with Class A Short Season Tri-City. One of the more dangerous hitters in the Pac-12 Conference last season, he hit .383 with 10 homers and 30 doubles for the University of Arizona.

As Matijevic faced TinCaps starter Pedro Avila, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter was in the right frame of mind to pull the trigger.

"When I came up, I realized the pitcher, Pedro, was throwing a lot of fastballs," he said. "I was just trying to be ready for a fastball. He made a mistake and gave me one, and I capitalized."

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Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said Matijevic had to make adjustments after going from the outfield in the New York-Penn League to serving as a designated hitter after arriving in the Midwest League.

"It's hard to be a DH when you're a young guy and you have to do it every day and you're not having success," Steinhorn said. "He's been able to get back out in the field. He was obviously drafted for his bat. To see him getting comfortable in left is a huge plus for our lineup."

Matijevic said he's settling in in left field after playing first base in college.

"I'm getting better at left," he said. "It's a learning process. I never played the outfield before. The Astros want me to be out there and wherever they want me to play, I'll play. I've gotten comfortable out there. I still have to work on my reads, going back, but as far as coming in, seeing the ball and getting to the ball, I'm doing pretty well. I've come a long way."

Chuckie Robinson also homered for the River Bandits, while three pitchers -- Cristian Javier, Jesus Balaguer and Robert Corniel -- combined for 15 strikeouts. Balaguer (1-0) fanned seven over three innings of one-hit relief for the win and Corniel worked 2 1/3 one-hit frames for his second postseason save.

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Colin Moran has provided big league punch during his rehab assignment with Quad Cities. Moran, who made his Major League debut last season, suffered a concussion and facial fracture on July 22 when he fouled a pitch off his face. He joined the River Bandits at the end of August, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored on Wednesday and is hitting .400 in seven postseason games.

"Colin is special," Steinhorn said. "He can really hit. He works really hard. He has been an unbelievable asset to our team, not just in the game but in the clubhouse, how he's talked to the players, how he's gone about his business professionally. He has been a huge mentor to our guys in the short among of time he's been here."

Avila (0-1) struck out 12 over six innings but was roughed up for six runs on seven hits and a walk.

Nate Easley hit a two-run homer and 17-year-old second baseman Justin Lopez had two hits and an RBI for Fort Wayne, which hosts Game 2 on Thursday. The TinCaps, who shook off the franchise's worst 58-game start, dropped a home game in the Eastern Division Finals before taking two in a row in Dayton to advance.

Curt Rallo is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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