Matt Chico returns, and so do his nerves
As Matt Chico sat in the bullpen along the rightfield line in the first inning today, his heart started pounding. Later, in order to explain the sensation, he tapped his chest and said, "it felt 130 miles per hour."
"This felt like my first big league game in '07," Chico said. "That's what it felt like. My heart felt like it was jumping out of my chest."
Chico's spring training debut doubled as the first time he had pitched in a major league setting since 2008, when he underwent ligament-replacement surgery and saw his burgeoning career thud to a halt.
Today, Chico restarted it. He retired all six batters he faced, striking out the last hitter he faced.
"I kind of settled down after that first or second pitch I threw," Chico said. But nerves still dictated part of his outing. Throwing in the bullpen before the game, Chico's adrenaline caused him to overthrow pitches and for the ball to sail high. Once he got on the mound, he took something off so he could throw strikes.
His fastball hovered between 85 and 88 mph, according to the Nationals radar gun, which Chico said felt slow. That Chico could throw that hard and have it feel slow counts as a victory. Before his surgery in 2008, Chico was topping out at 80 mph.
The increased velocity may help Chico change his style of pitching. Chico has averaged 3.8 walks per nine innings in his career, a figure enhance by his health problems.
"Part of me back then, for two years before that, I was throwing 80 or so," Chico said. "I had to start nibbling a lot more than I normally would. I was trying to do a little too much then."
Chico also changed the way he throws his slider. He once threw a sweeping pitch. Today, he threw his slider more downward bite. He threw one to Jeff Francouer that caused him to take an awkward half-swing over the ball.
"That was exactly what I wanted," Chico said.
On the next pitch, he came back with another slider and left it belt-high. Francouer bailed out Chico with a groundball to short. "I'll take it," Chico said. He felt too good to worry about much.
"A little bit of a feel-good story there for Matt," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's a very good feeling to see him out there throwing the ball like that."
March 7, 2010; 4:10 PM ET
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