Written by Doc Shorebird
Matt Hobgood surprised himself last night (Thursday May 16). It was also immediately obvious to the small group of season ticket holders in the sparse crowd – this is the fastest that Matt has ever thrown here. Not fully trusting the scoreboard radar gun, we had a contingent of six pro scouts to verify the results. Hobgood was throwing 95 and 96 consistently. Yes, it had finally warmed up, and Matt was heating up.
Was Matt finally back? I chatted with Matt between his morning warm-up session and team photo event today (Friday, May 17) to see how his arm felt.
Doc Shorebird: Well, are you excited?
Matt Hobgood: Extremely. The tank is full again.
DS: What happened last night?
MH: When I came in, I wanted to get quick strikes because I had noticed that they were swinging early on Matt Taylor. When they made contact on a couple of pitches and then got a hit with that nubber, I got a little mad.
DS: Even in that first inning of relief, it was noticeable that your FB was 1-2 mph faster. Neither your 2-seam nor 4-seam was less than 90. In fact, your only FB in the 80s all night was 85 when you were warming up. Earlier this year your FB had been sitting at 89-92, touching 93. Now you were 90-93, touching 94. What happened in the second relief inning?
MH: Well, I was not happy with my first inning and it was a warm night, so I bore down with my FB.
DS: But, you were mixing in several curves at 76 and 77 with good control
MH: Everything was feeling good and my confidence was returning.
DS: In that inning you were hitting 93-94 and touching 95 a couple of times. I was beginning to wonder about the scoreboard radar accuracy. What about the third relief inning?
MH: In the dugout they told me my velo was up, so I really felt good. I felt encouraged to throw hard.
DS: Just throw hard or pitch?
MH: Pitch. But, the official gun did register 97 once or twice and 96 several times and they were swinging through the ball.
DS: I don’t remember you throwing faster than 93 here before. Have you ever pitched at 95 before as a pro? I know you did in HS.
MH: No. Never! I have been here at Delmarva, Bluefield and briefly at Aberdeen. But, I have never thrown more than 93 in an Orioles’ system pro game.
DS: I remember how upset a friend of yours was when you started pitching at Delmarva. Your friend kept saying, “That’s not Matt. That’s not Matt. Something is wrong.” Hopefully, the operation has taken care of that now. How does the shoulder feel today?
MH: Everything is fine… just fine. I threw this morning in warm-ups and everything is fine. No soreness, no tightness, nothing but feeling fine.
DS: Have you been doing special exercises to continue the rehab?
MH: No. I finished my rehab exercises in Sarasota and just do normal pitching training now.
DS: You do normal long-tosses too?
MH: Well, relief pitchers do different programs than starters and our long-toss program is different.
DS: You’re coming along much better than the organization expected. In spite of what the doctors say about throwing, pitching is more than throwing. Doctors will say a pitcher can pitch again in a year, but baseball executives know that it takes about a year and a half to return to form. John Stockstill used to tell me that he wouldn’t even expect a pitcher to return to form in less than two years. In ST, I was told that they were hoping you would be near form in June and at full strength by the end of the season. You may be a little ahead of that schedule.
MH: I was told by a couple of guys that recovering would be a slow process, but then one day- out of nowhere – there would be a sudden jump in velo of 3 mph or so. It wouldn’t be a gradual creeping up – say 93 for a while, then 94 for a while then 95. So I was very happy to see the sudden jump last night.
DS: You hadn’t been seeing a gradual increase in practice and were just holding back?
MH: No. Last night’s velo jump was a complete surprise to me. And, I feel there is more in the tank to come.
DS: Well, it is a good sign that you are hitting 97 early and still aren’t up to full strength. You are still young. You would probably be near finishing up college about now or at least draft-eligible from college. You are probably about the same age as Kevin Gausman. So getting back to being the Matt Hobgood that Joe Jordan saw when you were in HS is not too late at all.
MH: I am thankful to Joe Jordan for the confidence he showed in me and I realize that a lot of Oriole fans have been disappointed – none more than I – but I am out to prove myself to all. I understand that seeing is believing and I will just keep quiet, work hard and refine my skills as a pitcher as I continue to gain my strength back.
DS: Well, they are calling you to participate in the team photo. Maybe we can pick this up again in a couple of weeks – if you are still here. I know the original plan was to keep you here all year and let you slowly return to strength and get in some innings. But, your early success may cause the organization to take another look.
MH: All that I know is that they want me to get some work in and yet limit my innings. I’m just happy to be pitching again.
DS: So are the Hangouters. We all wish you continued success.
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