Koch falls just short of perfection

Mets prospect allows triple in seventh, pitches one-hitter

Matt Koch had never thrown a complete game before Saturday. (Tracy Proffitt/Hickory Crawdads)

By Robert Emrich / MiLB.com | July 27, 2013 8:34 PM ET

Matt Koch may have missed out on a chance at history, but he gave a newlywed couple watching him at Grayson Stadium a night to remember.

The Mets prospect took a perfect game into the seventh inning before allowing a leadoff triple, settling for a one-hitter and a 3-1 victory as Savannah completed a doubleheader sweep of Augusta.

Koch (6-4), who fanned three, set down 18 in a row before GreenJackets leadoff man Shawn Payne tripled. Payne scored on Trevor Brown's sacrifice fly, but Koch retired the next two batters to finish off a one-hitter and his first professional complete game.

"Tonight it was all about fastball command," the 22-year-old right-hander said. "Throwing a few off-speed in here and there but not too often. The plan going into the game was trying to reestablish my fastball and being able to command it. Just happened tonight I was able to do it."

As for Payne's hit?

"I left a fastball up," Koch said. "I got into a three-ball count for the first time on the night and I was just giving him something to hit and I left it up. It was a good hit, he did well with a mistake."

Koch entered Saturday's game sporting an 11.17 ERA in three July starts, having allowed 25 hits over 9 2/3 innings. So the almost historic performance proved to be a much-needed morale boost.

"I've had a few struggles lately," he said. "I've talked with Frank [Viola], our pitching coach, a lot about the mentality and being able to keep focus throughout the whole game. It's a lot for the confidence. It was something I needed."

Overall, Koch has a 4.76 ERA in 17 games, including 14 starts, in his first season with Savannah.

The University of Louisville product also managed to give a belated wedding present to his friends, Shauna and Brandon Henkey, who attended the game with Koch's parents. Koch missed the wedding because it fell on the day of one of his starts.

"They are actually on their honeymoon, going around the country," he said. "They just got married and I was supposed to be in their wedding, but I wasn't able to make it. One of their stops was here to see me pitch. It was just something for me to try and make it up for missing something so important in their lives."

It also was a chance for Koch to reconnect with his parents, whom he hadn't seen in six months.

"It was really nice," he said. "It was good to have them there and I was happy I was able to give them a good performance to come and see."

The Mets' third-round pick in the 2012 Draft, Koch spent his final college season in the Louisville bullpen. That's also where he pitched most of last year with short-season Brooklyn, making only two starts.

This year, he's made 14 starts, with three early-season relief appearances mixed in. One of the biggest challenges that college relievers often face while transitioning to the rotation in the pros is the continued improvement of their secondary pitches. Koch, who throws a changeup, curveball and cut fastball, believes he's making the adjustment.

"They're getting better," he said. "They're a lot better when I work with it off the fastball. I'm starting to throw them for strikes and starting being able to have consistent movement and being able to place them where I want to. They're coming along well, but there's always room for improvement."

On Saturday, Koch pitched with a lead most of the night as the Sand Gnats scored twice in the first inning and once in the second. Cole Frenzel was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, while Mets No. 6 prospect Brandon Nimmo walked and scored a run.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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