A hitch in his giddy up could lift Reno Aces infielder Wyatt Mathisen into the Lone Star State as a 2019 Pacific Coast League All-Star.
The Corpus Christi, Texas, native fixed his landing spot at the plate mid-season. It’s made a difference over the last two months with the Aces. The MiLB All-Star Game will be held in El Paso, Texas. Selections for the team will be announced by the Pacific Coast League on Wednesday.
A right-handed batter, Mathisen raises his left leg to the height of the buttons of his jersey to generate power and contact.
But early in the season, his left foot landed opened and exposed in the batter’s box on his follow through. The minor difference in placement didn’t let Mathisen get the ball up in the air as much, often ending in hard-hit ground balls that couldn’t get past the infield.
Since Mathisen closed his compact stance in early May, he’s launched all 17 of his home runs this season over two months. He went 0-for-3 in a 10-4 loss to the Albuquerque Isotopes on Monday at Greater Nevada Field.
Mathisen belted a grand slam on Sunday’s game to cap-off three-straight homers.
“I wasn’t hitting anywhere close to as well as I am now,” he said. “I just made that small mechanical change in my swing and ever since then I’ve gotten my timing back and I’m seeing the ball much better.”
When Mathisen was in the midst of a .183 slump to start the year, he looked toward Aces’ hitting coach Jason Camilli for help. Both of them looked back at Mathisen’s tape during his playing days as an Indianapolis Indian last season, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“(Camilli) and I watched video from last year and saw the difference,” he said. “Once we noticed what I was doing, I immediately made the change and it was as simple as that. It’s made a huge difference.”
[pullquote]If you told me two months ago, I would even have a shot of being on the All-Star team I would’ve called you crazy.”[/pullquote]Along with a mechanical adjustment, Camilli helped find Mathisen his mojo at the dish.
“He saw his confidence pick up,” Camilli said. “He had some hard luck in the beginning of the season. It’s not like his at-bats were terrible. He had a lot of hard outs and some balls started falling for him. Once that happens to a good hitter you stick with it, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s really finding some good spots out there.”
Mathisen has been in a groove ever since. The slugging third/second baseman hit .300 (27-for-90) with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in May. He’s picked up where he left off this month, batting .347 (25-for-72) with nine home runs and 22 RBIs.
Mathisen’s hot stretch has put him in contention for his first-ever PCL All-Star appearance. He’s up to a .286 batting average with 48 RBIs and a .995 OPS in his first season with Reno.
The 25-year-old signed a minor league free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 12, 2018.
“It would be great to see,” he said. “If you told me two months ago, I would even have a shot of being on the All-Star team I would’ve called you crazy. It would be awesome, it could be another accolade to my resume playing with some of the best players in the (Pacific Coast League) and the International League.”
Before the Aces returned to Greater Nevada Field against Albuquerque, Mathisen had a Texas family reunion over their two road trips against the Round Rock Express and San Antonio Missions.
The trip to Texas marked his first appearance back home in almost seven years. He was surrounded by family and friends when he arrived.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Just about every game, I had a minimum of 20 to 30 people. … It was just great to play in front of all my family and friends that haven’t seen me play since high school. I had a really good time to say the least.”
Mathisen made sure to give the hometown crowd a welcome gift. He hit three-straight homers in a three-game series against Round Rock.
Certain family members were absent during the first game, so Mathisen made sure to return the favor.
“Almost half of my family missed the first one so that was tough,” he said. “My dad got into traffic and he was really late so he couldn’t make it. I hoped I had another chance to at least hit one more but I got two more so it was nice.”
Mathisen’s hot bat has complemented his quick glove defensively. He has split time between third and second base with the Aces, sporting a .967 fielding percentage at either position.
A second round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Mathisen played catcher at Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas.
When Mathisen starts second base, he’s happy to get a breather away from the hot corner. He made a smooth scoop-and-toss for a double play in the third inning.
“I think third base is way harder,” he said. “You can still play hops, but you see the ball a lot longer and get a read of where the pitch is going to be. That’s going to dictate where I’m positioned. … Third is more reaction based with more spin to the ball, so it’s more funky.”
Heading into the final game of a five-game home stand, Mathisen was sticking to the swing of things.
“I just need to stay within my routine,” he said. “I haven’t changed anything until I got hot. I’m not changing anything if I get cold. Baseball is a routine-based sport so as long as I stay in the box I’ll be good. … I never try to hit home runs, but I try to hit is hard as I can every swing.”
Camilli won’t change anything, either.
“At this point, I’ve been staying away,” he said. “He’s done nothing to warrant any change or advice from me right now.”
Reno Aces first baseman Kevin Cron is congratulated after hitting the first of his two home runs on Monday.
Cron homers twice in Aces’ loss
Aces’ first baseman Kevin Cron went 3-for-4 with solo two home runs and three RBIs in his third game back in the Biggest Little City.
Cron, 26, has adjusted to off-speed pitches since the Arizona Diamondbacks optioned him back to Triple-A Reno on June 22.
The slugger crushed a hanging curveball that hit the scoreboard in left field in the first inning. In his second at-bat, Cron blasted another home run — a slider — that broke off the plate back to left field in the third.
Cron’s 23 homers are tied with outfielders Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez — both are members of the Houston Astros organization — for the PCL lead. His 65 RBIs rank second in the PCL.
Reno had eight hits. Cody Decker was 1-for-3 with a double. Abraham Almonte finished 2-for-4 with a double. Juniel Querecuto added an RBI single.
Matt Koch was tagged with the loss in his eighth start with the Aces this season. The right-hander gave up six earned runs on 10 hits, three walks and seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings.
Albuquerque laced 14 hits. Dom Nunez went 3-for-5 and was a triple shy of the cycle. Roberto Ramos finished 2-for-45with a grand slam over the party zone in right field in the sixth. He has 17 home runs and 62 RBIs this season.
The Aces and Isotopes were tied 1-1 after the first inning. Albuquerque scored three more runs on three hits in the third. Cron’s second round-tripper of the game trimmed the deficit to 4-2 heading into the fourth. Both teams scored one run in the fifth. The Isotopes poured it on with five runs in the sixth. Reno had one more run in the seventh.
Ex-Ace Puello traded to Marlins: Former Reno Aces’ outfielder Cesar Puello was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels on June 17.
The La Romana, Dominican Republic, native cleared waivers and was traded to the Miami Marlins for cash considerations on June 19. He has three hits in five games with Miami.
Notes: The Aces have four grand slams this season … The Los Angeles Dodgers made baseball history against the Colorado Rockies. Three rookie teammates Alex Verdugo, Matt Beaty and Will Smith all hit walk-off home runs. … The Aces are 15-22 when opposing teams scores first. … There was a paid attendance of 4,350.
On Deck: Reno, 32-44, hit the road for nine games in 10 days. The Aces face the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. Following their matchup against Salt Lake, the club will visit the Las Vegas Aviators, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s, for five games.