GREENSBORO — The buzz on Michael Matuella as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 MLB draft has grown throughout the season, in coaching and baseball insider circles. Wednesday, though, he made the mistake of overusing his fastball.
“Obviously, when you have the kind of arm that that kid does, you’re going to want to throw your fastball,” Clemson designated hitter Tyler Krieger said, verbalizing the thinking behind the Tigers’ approach: hunt fastballs.
Clemson made solid contact on Matuella after the first time through the lineup. Krieger provided the biggest blow, a two-run double that led to a 5-3 win against the Blue Devils in the opening game of the ACC tournament for both teams.
Matuella wasn’t drafted out of high school, when his velocity was in the mid-to-high 80s. Since arriving at Duke, the sophomore ditched his four-seamer and pushed the speed on his two-seamer in the mid-to-high 90s on good days, and is most effective when he mixes in his curveball, slider and change-up. The potential of those pitches, along with his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, have scouts and analysts expecting big things for him.
Matuella was effective the first time through the lineup, generating four swings and misses and four strikeouts against one hit and one walk. The second time around, though, Clemson put seven hard-hit balls in play — five for hits — and Matuella generated no swings and misses. He didn’t get his next swing and miss until the seventh inning, when he faced Krieger for the fourth time. Krieger ended up walking and went 2-for-3 with two walks and two RBIs.
“They started sitting on the fastball, and my fastball started to get elevated a little bit,” Matuella said. “When that starts to happen, the two-seam doesn’t move as much, and they put a lot of good swings on the ball today. I have to do a better job of getting the ball down and mixing it up a little bit more.”
Duke led 2-0 going into the fourth inning, thanks a dropped foul ball by Clemson third baseman Weston Wilson that gave Chris Marconcini another opportunity. He reached on an infield single and, with two outs, scored on Ryan Deitrich’s home run over the fence in left-center field.
But in the fourth, the second time through the Clemson lineup, the Tigers had figured out Matuella’s fastball and waited for it, putting aggressive swings on the ball. Three consecutive hitters swung at the first pitch, all fastballs. A Garrett Boulware single — the Tigers’ third consecutive — drove in Steven Duggar to close Duke’s advantage to 2-1.
“They saw I was throwing fastball first pitch pretty frequently,” Matuella said. “That’s where I have to do a better job mixing it up.”
Clemson took the lead for good in the fifth, when Krieger laced a two-run double down the right field line. Though he didn’t record any strikeouts after the first time though the lineup, Matuella did pitch into the seventh inning, saving the bullpen for later games this week. His final line: 6 2/3 innings, eight hits, three runs, three walks and four strikeouts in 106 pitches.
“He certainly gave us a good enough start to win the ballgame,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said.
Seminoles beat Tar Heels 7-1
Billy Strode threw six scoreless innings to help Florida State beat North Carolina 7-1 on Wednesday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Strode (2-1) allowed four hits for the second-seeded Seminoles (42-14), who blew the game open with a four-run fourth inning. Danny De La Calle hit a two-run double while Casey Smit added an RBI single that helped FSU build a 5-0 lead.
Justin Gonzalez also drove in two runs, had two hits and scored two runs for Florida State.
Alex Raburn had two hits and drove in the only run for the seventh-seeded Tar Heels (33-24), who advanced to pool play by beating rival North Carolina State in Tuesday’s elimination round.
Taylore Cherry (2-3) allowed seven hits and six runs in 5 1-3 innings for the Tar Heels, the reigning tournament champions.
FSU will face sixth-seeded Maryland on Friday, while UNC will play third-seeded Virginia.