When right-handed reliever Matt Koch was drafted in the third round by the New York Mets during 2012’s First Year Player Draft, I don’t think he could have foreseen the journey that eventually brought him to the Colorado Rockies organization.
Koch was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in the 37th round of the 2009 draft, but the pitcher from Iowa declined to sign in favor of his commitment with the University of Louisville. Koch posted a 3.38 ERA with the Cardinals over three seasons and 49 appearances, including 17 starts. After entering the draft he joined the Mets organization, where he spent most of four seasons. He advanced as high as Double-A when the Mets dealt him as part of a package to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015.
After seven strong outings with the Triple-A Reno Aces in 2016, Koch earned his way to a late season call-up with the big league club. He made his big league debut in September with seven appearances—two of which were starts—to close out the season. He posted an ERA of 2.00, earned his first major league save, and struck out ten batters over 18 innings.
2017 was less kind to Koch. He suffered a hamstring injury coming out of spring training, followed by a shoulder injury that derailed his campaign and caused him to miss a large portion of the first half. He struggled in ten starts with the Aces and made just one appearance with the Diamondbacks where he failed to record an out.
However, Koch flashed his third round potential with a solid bounce-back season the following year. 2018 saw Koch spend a large part of the season with the big league club. He made 14 starts in 19 total appearances. In 86 2⁄3 innings he posted a 4.15 ERA. The gem of his season was a start in which he out-dueled Justin Verlander over 6 1⁄3 innings.
Unfortunately, 2019 brought Koch back down to Earth again. After nine outings—all of which were out of the bullpen—he found himself with a 9.15 ERA. He was designated for assignment and outrighted to Reno, where he would spend the rest of the season. He elected free agency after the season, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to cancel the following minor league campaign. Without a contract, Koch signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan with Nippon Professional Baseball.
Koch credits pitching in Japan with furthering his development.
“It’s a different game over there,” he told Purple Row when asked what he learned in Japan. “Their bat-to-ball skills are incredible. So just learning how to execute a little bit better and how to mix your pitches and not be so predictable.”
His pitching career made another big change coming out of Japan: Koch was now exclusively a reliever. He was no stranger to working out of the bullpen due to his time in college and his minor league career, but as he inked minor league deals with the Cleveland Guardians in 2021 and the Seattle Mariners in 2022 he would also rely on his teammates to adjust to a full-time bullpen role.
“It’s kind of a mindset,” Koch explained. “I did a little bit of both in college so I had a taste of coming out of the bullpen and then I did a little bit in 2015 when I was still with the Mets. But then [you] just kind of ask questions [to] guys who have done it for a while and see how they go about their business and try to learn it.”
His “mindset” helped him to a strong 2022 season with Seattle’s Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. He posted a 3.05 ERA in 38 appearances and 38 1⁄3 innings while earning four saves and posting a career best 11.7 strikeouts per nine. He even got his first taste of the majors since 2019.
The Rockies signed Koch to a minor league deal this offseason with a non-roster invite to spring training. He was assigned to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes to start the season, but eventually his time would come. With injuries plaguing the Rockies’ rotation and bullpen, his contract was selected on June 27th.
Now he has new teammates and fellow veteran relievers with their own unique baseball journeys to learn from.
“The guys who have done it for a while like Daniel Bard and Tyler Kinley. Around the bullpen, around the clubhouse you can talk to those guys and just kind of pick their brain for how they go about their business. A lot of it is just watching and learning.”
Koch may be learning from Bard and Kinley, but he doesn’t seem to be too worried about pitching at altitude with the Rockies.
“[It is] the same thing with the bullpen. Talk to the guys and see what works better,” Koch said. “What my mindset here is you throw your same pitches. You might have to change your sights a little bit because the ball might not move as much, or try to get more ground balls and fly balls. I mean, it’s not that big a difference in how I pitch my game.”
Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working so far. Koch has made nine appearances out of the Rockies bullpen, tied for the second most big league appearances of his career. In those nine games he has yet to allow a single run through 10 2⁄3 innings. Opposing batters are hitting just .088 against him and while a 0.00 ERA might not be sustainable, a 2.63 FIP suggests he is pitching well regardless.
Koch did used to be a starter, though. With a rotation laid bare by injuries, could the Rockies consider stretching him out to start for the first time since 2019? Would he even want to start?
“At this point in my career it’s not really that big of a deal to me. I’m kind of happy where I’m at right now. I mean, if they want me to try to build up and start some time I would be willing to give it a shot but I’m happy where I’m at right now.”
For now, the 32-year old Koch is proving himself an important member of the Rockies pitching staff as a result of where the ups and downs of his unique baseball journey have taken him.
★ ★ ★
New arrival Chris Flexen was solid in his debut with the Albuquerque Isotopes, pitching 4 1⁄3 innings while giving up one earned run on a solo home run. Brent Suter has returned from the IL (oblique) and Fernando Abad was designated for assignment. Kyle Freeland is working on returning from his right shoulder subluxation and threw an “aggressive” 40-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday, while Randal Grichuk has been running as he recovers from a groin strain.
At last week’s All-Star festivities, close friends Elias Díaz and Carlos Estévez were both first-time All-Stars. Unfortunately, they were both representing different teams with different trajectories. Despite that, their friendship forged in the Rocky Mountains endures as discussed by Call to the Pen’s Kevin Henry.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Ben Braymer started the game and pitched two scoreless innings before things began to unravel in the third. Braymer walked three straight batters before a GIDP and a single scored the Space Cowboys’ first two runs of the game. PJ Poulin struggled in his inning of work, allowing four runs to score via two singles, a double, and a home run. Riley Pint walked three batters in his 1 2⁄3 innings, but also struck out four without giving up a run or a hit, while Chance Adams worked 1 1⁄3 scoreless and hitless innings as well. Dugan Darnell gave up a two run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to seal the Isotopes’ fate. Offensively the Isotopes scored just two runs, one each in the first two frames. An Aaron Schunk sacrifice fly plated one in the first inning, while a Connor Kaiser single plated another in the second. Jimmy Herron went 2-for-4 and was the only Albuquerque batter with multiple hits.
Riley Pint strikes out Yordan Alvárez and now has four punchouts in 1.2 frames today.— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) July 19, 2023
E6: Space Cowboys 6, Isotopes 2 pic.twitter.com/51QYZSZAYD
An Eastern League slugfest, the Yard Goats edged out the Patriots with ten runs on 16 hits to nine runs on 14 hits. The Legend of Mike Honcho continues to grow in Hartford, as Jordan Beck went 4-for-4 with three doubles and a home run. Hunter Goodman slugged two home runs on a 3-for-5 night with 4 RsBI, Yanquiel Fernandez and Warming Bernabel both went 2-for-5, and Julio Carreras went 2-for-3 with a home run of his own. Finn Del Bonta Smith, Austin Kitchen, and Dylan Spain all had scoreless outings while Colten Schmidt, Nick Kuzia, and Adam McKillican all gave up multiple runs.
Suite Life On Beck The kid does it again! Jordan Beck hits a solo blast in his second game at the Yard. pic.twitter.com/W8ulNBXIZ2— Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) July 20, 2023
The Indians bullpen locked things down with just one run allowed over 5 2⁄3 innings following a tough start for Victor Juárez. Juárez gave up five earned runs on five hits and four walks over 3 1⁄3 innings, though he did also strike out five batters. Brendan Rodgers went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk in his second rehab start with the Indians, while Zach Kokoska, Nic Kent, and Benny Montgomery all enjoyed two hit evenings. Kokoska ended up being the difference maker with the game winning two run home run in the seventh inning.
The Grizzlies scored just two runs on eight hits, going 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position. EJ Andrews Jr. and Jesus Bugarin drove in the Grizzlies’ only two runs of the night, though Dyan Jorge and Andy Perez both had two hits in the ballgame. Jorge hit a double while Perez hit a triple for Fresno’s only extra base hits of the night. The pitching was solid but faltered without backup from the offense. Anderson Pilar worked five innings while giving up three earned runs with five strikeouts. The bullpen worked four scoreless innings, two of which belonged to Braxton Hyde. Davison Palermo struck out three batters in his scoreless frame and Zach Agnos struck out one.
Modesto beats Fresno 3-2 as the Grizzlies fall to 16-4 in the 2nd half. Dyan Jorge and Andy Perez clobbered 2 hits apiece, extending their hit streaks. ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/qhc4ojq8Uh— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) July 20, 2023
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!