By: Matthew Osborne
A rough beginning to the 2013 season changed in one start. Command issues were solved and not a single hit was allowed. A no-hitter was thrown.
Smokies pitcher Matt Loosen’s season did not start out the way he wanted. After starting the season on the disabled list, Loosen could not last longer than six innings in eight appearances.
The inability to control any pitch was evident as Loosen averaged three walks per outing to begin the season.
“Early on in the season I was a little erratic, trouble commanding fastballs and when that started happening, the breaking ball kind of followed and just command of the strike zone was pretty much probably the biggest thing that I was struggling with,” Loosen said of his first stint with Tennessee.
A demotion followed to the Daytona Cubs, which gave Loosen the opportunity to work on locating his pitches. Two losses followed, but after that, Loosen began to recover.
A key aspect of returning to his 2012 form, where he was 11-5 with the D-Cubs, was assessing each problem individually. Instead of working on all aspects of his game at once, Loosen broke down each problem to simplify his approach.
“I mean all season I’ve felt good, felt like I had good stuff, and like I said it was just the erratic thing and I was just kind of missing the spots I didn’t want to miss,” Loosen said. “I was missing big and just constantly working on little things and trying not to get too ahead of myself and just take it day-by-day. That was pretty much the thing in Daytona I was trying work on and not to think about ten different things, just think about this thing one time and then move on, move on kind of keep it easy and simple and try to keep a clear head and just try to get better.”
And he got better. Loosen won five of his next seven starts, including his July 8th start against the Dunedin Blue Jays. Minus two walks, his start was near perfection.
Loosen threw his first career no-hitter and the first Daytona nine-inning no-no since 1996.
“It was really exciting,” Loosen said of his no-hitter. “It was pretty cool and it happened so long ago now I kind of don’t even really remember it. But I mean, it felt really good obviously and I was working hard at the time and I’m going to continue to work hard and hopefully I can keep pitching well and continue success here.”
As for most pitchers, Loosen will remember the 27th out. For him, a catch was involved following being mobbed by his team.
“The last out,” Loosen said of his most memorable moment during the game. “I mean, the last out I’ll always remember that. Just [somebody] making the last catch and then [Daytona first basemen Dustin] Geiger coming in. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
Besides working on his control, Loosen is using his first pitch of an at-bat to improve. Getting ahead of the batter has been key.
“I think hitters at this level, once you get them in a hitter’s count, they become very hard to get out and I think if I can get strike one on them, it makes my job a lot easier and trying to get early outs and do some ground balls, maybe some pop ups, things like that,” Loosen said about working in pitcher’s counts.
Smokies manager Buddy Bailey had only heard reports of Loosen before his return to Smokies Park. Bailey reiterated Loosen’s need to get ahead of batters.
“Everybody said he pitched really well down there and his numbers said that he pitched good,” Bailey said. “But the one thing, compared to what he was here earlier, he’s going to have to get ahead in the count and he’s got to get the ball down in the zone and if he does that, he’ll have a chance to have success and he didn’t do that when he was here. Obviously I didn’t see him in Daytona, just heard reports, but he must have been throwing strikes down in the zone.”
A key to any pitcher’s game is their belief to make a pitch. Smokies pitcher Matt Loosen’s season did not start well, but after a stint in Daytona, he seems to have found a swagger and is improving each start.
“I felt confident even when things were kind of not going to well,” Loosen said. “I just try to keep a level head and I felt confident, felt good and my confidence level I feel I try to keep it on keel and yeah I feel good and hopefully I just keep working hard and hope for the best.”