LOS ANGELES — Luis Matos hit 713 feet worth of fly balls in his first two at-bats on Friday night, taking the kinds of swings that would have any young prospect thinking about what could be accomplished with just a touch more power. As some Giants coaches watched Matos walk up to the plate for a third time, they wondered if his swing would get too big. They expected it, even.
The crowd of nearly 50,000 was by far the biggest Matos had ever played in front of, and he was getting his first taste of one of the best rivalries in sports. It was a rowdy Friday night at Dodger Stadium, and for seven innings, Matos had stood in the middle of it all, marveling at how loud the speakers behind the center field wall were.
And then he stepped up to the plate while leading off the eighth and calmly took four outside sinkers to spark a rally. An inning later, he took another walk and yelled “Let’s go!” to the dugout as he flipped his bat in the direction of teammates. In the 11th inning of a tie game, he took a third straight walk, again flipping the bat aside and yelling even louder this time.
“I loved that moment,” manager Gabe Kapler said the next day, smiling. “It was a really good moment.”
It’s not unusual these days to see players have a little fun when drawing a walk. Andrew McCutchen is particularly good at it, and LaMonte Wade Jr. and Austin Slater are among the Giants who often flip their bats aside after ball four. But Matos brought a bit of extra mustard on Friday night, and Kapler loved it for more than just the entertainment value.
“The reason it’s most encouraging is because he understood how important (the walk) was,” he said. “Players who celebrate walks get it. Players who celebrate good at-bats, both for themselves and for other players — even if the at-bats don’t end up in something great happening, although that was a really good outcome — they get that the name of the game is to not make an out and that every time you get the next guy up to the plate you’re doing your job.
“Most players don’t celebrate that. They do celebrate the base hits, they celebrate the home runs. They rarely celebrate a big take. It’s just not something that you see very often, especially for a young, and in this case, a 21-year-old player.”
The night — 0 for 2 with three walks — showed off exactly why the Giants were so confident in calling up Matos when Mitch Haniger had forearm surgery. Team officials say they have never seen a player improve his plate discipline so dramatically year to year, and Matos earned an early bump to Triple-A by piling up more walks (17) than strikeouts (12) in Double-A. After the promotion, he walked seven times and struck out eight in 24 games for the Sacramento River Cats.
In four big league games, Matos has five walks without a strikeout. He appears to have very quickly become another prime example of what the big league coaching staff preaches every single day: Be passive on pitches you can’t do anything with, but do damage when you get one you can drive.
When Matos was in the minors, the Giants felt that he at times got into auto-take mode to show his plate discipline, which was another reason Friday’s game was so encouraging. He took a big 3-0 hack during his first walk and again on a 3-1 count in the 11th. With count leverage, he tried to do damage.
In the sixth inning on Sunday, Matos worked a 3-2 count — his seventh three-ball count in four games — and then smoked a hanging splitter into left to drive in a couple of runs. His first extra-base hit in the big leagues gave him his first two RBI.
It’s incredibly early, and two other recent call-ups are a reminder that every path is different. Patrick Bailey hasn’t hit a speed bump yet, while Casey Schmitt is fighting to adjust to pitchers who quickly figured out how to attack him.
But Matos arrived with the most important trait a rookie hitter can have. His plate discipline has carried over from the minors, and that should make it pretty easy for Gabe Kapler to pencil him in as his center fielder on a daily basis.
Kapler has mentioned several times already that he doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but there’s little doubt that Matos is already fully comfortable as a big leaguer. Asked if he was ever nervous amid all the chaos on Friday, he shook his head and smiled.
“Never,” he said. “I just wanted to get on base.”
He did it three straight times in the tightest spots he has ever faced in his career, and his manager certainly noticed how comfortable he looked throughout.
“I didn’t know Matos could keep it together like that, to be honest with you,” Kapler said on Saturday afternoon. “It’s not that I doubted his ability to keep it together but there was a confidence and a poise that we saw last night that was really encouraging.
“We evaluate makeup and confidence and swagger a little bit. You evaluate that very quickly. It doesn’t take long to see it. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ebb and flow, because you can see that with a lot of players, but it was really encouraging to see his poise last night.”
Source: Yahoo Sports