NEW YORK -- Right-hander Matt Koch is off to a blazing start with Class A St. Lucie. He owns a 5-0 record, 2.81 ERA and 1.104 WHIP in seven Florida State League starts.
The 23-year-old Koch, a third-round pick in 2012 from the University of Louisville, can appreciate the success even more given how last season ended.
Pitching for low-A Savannah last Aug. 2, Koch (pronounced “Cook”) was struck in the head with a line drive off the bat of Greenville’s Mario Martinez and spent three nights in the hospital with internal bleeding and swelling on the brain.Courtesy of New York Mets
“That put into perspective a little bit how quick the game could be taken away from you and how you can’t take it for granted,” Koch said. “You have to go out every day and give it everything you can to get better and help the team win.”
Koch resumed facing batters during spring training. He now can even laugh off again getting struck with a line drive during an intrasquad game two months ago while in minor-league camp.
“Actually, my first game in spring training, T.J. Rivera hit me with a line drive. I got hit right in the backside,” Koch said with a chuckle. “It was fine. I actually got the out this time. So that was good. There have been a couple of line drives up the middle, but nothing too scary or too close.
“Honestly, the first couple of the times going out to the pitcher’s mound on the field -- right before I’d go out -- I’d think about it and I’d be a little bit scared. But then, as soon as I got on the mound, I wouldn’t think about it at all. I honestly haven’t thought about it since spring training.”
Koch never required surgery during last year’s hospitalization.
“They were just monitoring it, getting CT scans and MRIs to keep track of what it was doing,” Koch said. “And it kept getting better.”
Koch, a native Iowan, had been the closer during his junior year at Louisville. He had excelled in an eighth- and ninth-inning role for the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League the previous summer, and the college staff installed him in that role, too. Louisville had lost Tony Zych, its closer of the previous season, to the 2011 draft (fourth round/Red Sox). The Cardinals also had been fairly deep in starting pitching. The Mets, though, drafted Koch with an eye toward starting.
“I know in our pre-draft meetings, and when I was talking to the Mets scout, he kept asking if I thought I could start,” Koch said. “I kept telling him, yeah, I’ve been a starter pretty much my whole life until then. So I kind of assumed that they would want me to be a starter.”
Koch’s fastball sits at 90-92 mph this season, which is down slightly from previous years. The modest velocity drop can be explained away, though, because Koch has increased the frequency of throwing two-seam fastballs, “trying to be on the edges of the plate.” He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup.
What jumps out most is his low career walk rate. He has walked only 16 batters in 147 1/3 professional innings -- or 0.98 per nine innings.
“That’s always how I’ve really been. I hate walking people,” Koch said. “I know sometimes you’ve got to nibble and be smart. But I hate just giving people the free base. I want them to earn it.”
Average: T.J. Rivera, St. Lucie, .376; Eric Campbell, Vegas, .355; Jeff McNeil, Savannah, .342; Brandon Nimmo, St. Lucie, .335; Zach Lutz, Vegas, .333; Matt Reynolds, Binghamton, .333; Kevin Plawecki, Binghamton, .325; Dilson Herrera, St. Lucie, .320; Matt Clark, Binghamton, .314; Wilfredo Tovar, Binghamton, .309.
Homers: Andrew Brown, Vegas, 9; Taylor Teagarden, Vegas, 8; Matt Clark, Binghamton, 8; Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 7.
RBIs: Allan Dykstra, Vegas, 39; T.J. Rivera, St. Lucie, 37; Zach Lutz, Vegas, 33; Aderlin Rodriguez, St. Lucie, 33; Stefan Sabol, Savannah, 31.
Steals: Patrick Biondi, Savannah, 11; Jeff McNeil, Savannah, 11; Dilson Herrera, St. Lucie, 10; Brandon Nimmo, St. Lucie, 8.
ERA: Kevin McGowan, Savannah, 1.85; Steven Matz, St. Lucie, 2.22; Jacob deGrom, Vegas, 2.58; Darin Gorski, Binghamton, 2.68; Matt Koch, St. Lucie, 2.81; John Gant, Savannah, 2.93; Ricky Knapp, Savannah, 3.12; Luis Cessa, St. Lucie, 3.40; Matt Bowman, Binghamton, 3.48; Rafael Montero, Vegas, 3.67.
Wins: Noah Syndergaard, Vegas, 5; Matt Koch, St. Lucie, 5.
Saves: Robert Coles, Savannah, 9; Chasen Bradford, Binghamton, 8; Vic Black, Vegas, 7; Jeff Walters, Vegas, 6; Randy Fontanez, St. Lucie, 5; Beck Wheeler, St. Lucie, 5.
Strikeouts: Noah Syndergaard, Vegas, 51; Darin Gorski, Binghamton, 48; Steven Matz, St. Lucie, 44; Dario Alvarez, Savannah, 42; Dana Eveland, Vegas, 42.
• Left-handed reliever Chase Huchingson, who received a 50-game suspension last Aug. 26 for a second violation involving a drug of abuse, has nearly completed the ban. Huchingson, 25, will be eligible to pitch in official games after Binghamton plays its 43rd game of the season in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday. Huchingson has been pitching in extended spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla., to ramp up. The 6-foot-5 southpaw went 3-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 45 relief appearances with the B-Mets last season and held lefty batters to a .125 average (9-for-72).
• Dario Alvarez was named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week. No youngster, the 25-year-old left-hander spent 2007 through ’09 playing in the Dominican Summer League with the Phillies. After tossing two scoreless innings Tuesday for Savannah, Alvarez is 3-0 with a 0.33 ERA in eight appearances (three starts) spanning 27 innings. He has allowed three runs (one earned) on 17 hits while striking out 42, walking eight and hitting one batter.
• Second baseman Dilson Herrera, who was acquired last August with Vic Black from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Marlon Byrd and John Buck, has nine multi-hit performances in his past 11 games with St. Lucie. He is hitting .431 (22-for-51) during that stretch.
• Binghamton outfielder Kyle Johnson, acquired last summer from the Angels for Collin Cowgill, hit safely in 10 straight games until going 0-for-4 Monday at Portland. Johnson, a 25th-round pick in 2012 out of Washington State University, is hitting .303 with a .366 on-base percentage and is leading off for the B-Mets.
• The 40-round draft will be held June 5-7 in Secaucus, N.J. The Mets will pick 10th overall, then do not select again until 84th overall, in the third round. The Mets forfeited their second-round selection for signing Curtis Granderson, although the Yankees eventually forfeited that pick as well because they signed Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury. Under the new CBA, the Mets will have a draft-spending allotment of $5,308,300. The Mets also have an international spending allotment of $2,697,800. The total spending allotment of $8,006,100 ranks 20th in MLB.
• Right-hander Cory Mazzoni, who started and was forced to leave the final Grapefruit League game with a lat-muscle injury, began throwing off the slope of a mound last weekend in Port St. Lucie.
• Binghamton catcher Kevin Plawecki has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games. He’s hitting .393 in May.
• With Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero at the major-league level, Greg Peavey and Giancarlo Alvarado have stepped into the Las Vegas rotation. Peavey was promoted after going 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three starts this month with Binghamton. John Lannan, who accepted his outright assignment to Vegas on April 19 rather than elect free agency, never has reported to the 51s. The Mets consistently describe his absence as a family matter.
• 2012 first-round pick Gavin Cecchini (.268/.335/.418) has been sidelined since Saturday’s start at shortstop for Savannah because of a sore hand. The Mets label him day-to-day.
• Savannah second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, son of Lee Mazzilli, has raised his average 35 points, to .255, in the past two weeks. He has three multi-hit performances in his past five games.
• Right-hander Kevin McGowan -- last year’s 13th-round pick from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire -- largely pitched in relief last season with Brooklyn, but has emerged as one of Savannah’s best starters. McGowan is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in seven starts.
• Hicksville, Long Island, native Cam Maron is starting to heat up at the plate. The 23-year-old St. Lucie catcher is hitting .294 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 51 at-bats in May. He has a .383 on-base percentage this month. Maron, typically one of the first to arrive and last to leave the ballpark, is bilingual and able to effectively communicate with the Mets’ Latin American pitchers.
• Champ Stuart, newly added to Savannah’s roster, should get a lot of time in center field with Jared King having suffered a fractured right fibula.
• Savannah reliever Dawrin Frias landed on the DL with a biceps issue.