Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Tyler Matzek throws during spring training baseball practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson
February 23, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Tyler Matzek finished strong in 2014, ramping up expectations that the former first-round pick would be a key part of the rotation for the Colorado Rockies.

Then the left-hander basically couldn't throw a strike, spiraling from major league starter to minor leaguer to a guy who was taken off the field entirely.

The problem was performance anxiety.

''I put so much pressure on myself to be the guy and go out there and take the team and put it on my shoulder,'' the 25-year-old Matzek said Monday. ''Go ahead and just win every game by myself. I think all that pressure just made me get anxious.''

Matzek went from starting the Rockies' home opener last season to allowing seven runs, walking seven and hitting a batter while recording three outs for Triple-A Albuquerque a month later.

''I had a few mechanical issues that if I wasn't in that mental state I probably could have fixed pretty quick,'' Matzek said. ''But I was in such a pressure, anxiety state of mind for so long I wasn't able to fix them. I needed to fix the mind first and then fix the body.''

With the help of the Rockies, Matzek sought help. The team put him in touch with a psychologist in his native Southern California. Matzek tried to slow things down in his head in a month away from the field.

''It's just mind exercises. Just make yourself not be worrying about the future,'' Matzek said. ''I don't want to go into too much detail, but it's basic stuff. I just needed somebody to work with me day in and day out to kind of speed the process along.

''Could I have figured it out without him? Maybe. Would it have taken a lot longer? Probably.''

Matzek, who was not given medication, returned to the mound for Boise in the short-season Class A Northwest League on June 19. The results were modest, but better. Matzek finished the season in Triple-A as a reliever, and his ERA dropped from 63.00 after that nightmare first minor league outing to 8.74.

More importantly, Matzek found a way to alleviate the pressure, something that overwhelmed him in his last big league start on May 6, when he walked six and gave up four runs in two innings against Arizona.

''I was setting goals really high. I was just going about achieving them the wrong way,'' he said. ''I want to put pressure on myself, but I was putting everyone's pressure on me. I wanted to carry the team to the promised land.''

Matzek, who still occasionally checks in with his psychologist, went public with his mental health issues over the winter in a Denver Post story. He has been honest and forthcoming and came to Arizona this year more relaxed.

He has thrown a couple of successful bullpen sessions so far, and the Rockies are hopeful the 11th pick in the 2009 draft can turn things around.

''Tyler's throwing strikes. His bullpens have gone well,'' manager Walt Weiss said. ''It's been encouraging.''

This spring is a lot different. Matzek is no longer expected to fill a rotation spot. There's a chance he could end up full-time in the bullpen, too.

''We're open to it,'' Weiss said. ''A lot of comes down to Tyler and what's his best chance of success, and what's best for our club. Where does he fit?''

That could also mean starting the season in the minors.

''Whatever comes my way, that's what I'm going to be happy with,'' Matzek said. ''If I start out in Triple-A or the big leagues, I'm going to take it one day at a time and have the same approach. I'm going to try to get guys out. That's all I'm going to do.''

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