Tyler Matzek knew his mechanics were broken. And he could think of only one man who could fix them.
Returning after a month-long break to work with his amateur pitching coach, the Rockies top prospect tossed four scoreless innings Wednesday as the Class A Asheville Tourists edged the Kannapolis Intimidators, 5-4.
The 20-year-old left-hander, whose pitches sat between 92-96 mph, struck out six while allowing two hits and issuing five walks.
"It was all right. It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely better than how it was," Matzek said. "I felt like I could command the ball. All in all, I'd say it was good."
Selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Matzek struggled with his command this year. He went 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA in 10 starts for Class A Advanced Modesto before being demoted to Asheville, where surrendered 14 runs over nine innings. Overall, he had given up 61 walks and 46 hits in 42 innings.
That led to a conversation with the Rockies assistant general manager Bill Geivett, during which Matzek asked for time off to work with his old pitching coach, Lon Fullmer.
"We were just talking about what was needed to solve the problem," said Matzek, who received a $3.9 million signing bonus from the Rockies. "I told him I'd really like to go back and work with my old guy; I've never pitched without him. I really thought he could help me with my problem, my command issues. I went back to him and it's worked so far."
Matzek had worked with Fullmer from his youth -- 8 or 9 years old, he said -- until he signed with the Rockies. He knew his struggles stemmed from flawed mechanics, and he was confident that Fullmer could help solve the problem.
"Basically, I was throwing like a Dontrelle Willis, completely sidearm," Matzek said. "It's different from anything I'd done previously. I knew this before I went back, I just didn't know how to fix it. I was lost in that sense."
Matzek was supposed to be throwing over the top, in a way that is unlike traditional pitching motions -- he called it "a doctor's way of throwing a baseball without injuring yourself." His aim was to achieve an arm action similar to that of Tim Lincecum or Clayton Kershaw.
"If you ever watch Lincecum in slow motion, you'll see his humerus is straight up and down," Matzek said. "His elbow stays at one point in place and his arm rotates -- pronates in -- and accelerates the ball."
Matzek spent more than a month away from the Rockies. He made his last start for Asheville on June 17 and was not back on the mound until Wednesday. His routine with Fullmer consisted of up to two hours of weightlifting, followed by a bullpen session in which he threw between 100-150 pitches.
Now that he's back in the Rockies system, Matzek still plans on checking in with Fullmer every week.
"I'm still going to keep in touch with him, absolutely, and still talk about all the pitching stuff," he said. "When the offeason comes, I'm still going to work out with him and throw bullpens with him."
Although he issued five walks in his return, Matzek said his form was greatly improved from what it was earlier this year. The issue now is maintaining it.
"On those walks, I was getting outside and I knew it," Matzek said. "The difference was, [compared to] the past, I knew what I was doing wrong and I knew I could make that adjustment. I got back on top of the ball and got back on the strike zone. I've got to keep doing that and keep the ball down in the strike zone."
Matzek left with a 4-0 lead, but the Intimidators scored four runs -- one earned -- over three innings against reliever Juan Gonzalez. Bruce Kern worked a scoreless eighth and South Atlantic League All-Star Juan Perez pitched around a hit in the ninth for his 18th save.