May 20, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It might not be right to say that Matthew Gorst came out of nowhere, but then again when a guy has 11 saves and a 0.50 ERA after two previous seasons adding up to one and 5.89, maybe it would.
After two fairly non-descript seasons in the middle of Georgia Tech’s bullpen, the junior right hander gave it the middle finger and took off.
There are three distinct differences between this Yellow Jacket’s past and present: Gorst is healthy, the cut fastball he added while rehabbing from elbow surgery last summer is lethal, and he’s therefore abundantly confident.
It’s all in the grip.
“It’s just more pressure with my middle finger,” he said of his new favorite pitch. “Until this year, I always felt more comfortable trying to spin the ball rather than just throwing a straight fastball so to me it was more natural [adding the pitch].”
The new Gorst was on display Thursday, retiring Boston College in order in the ninth inning to preserve fellow former Johns Creek High teammate Brandon Gold’s work for a 6-3 win over the Eagles. That left Gold 7-3 with an ERA of 2.55.
Who would have predicted this after Gorst was 1-0 with a 7.59 ERA in 15 appearances as a freshman and 3-2 with a 4.81 ERA and a single save in 26 outings as a sophomore?
Head coach Danny Hall might not have foreseen the 6-foot-1 business administration major threatening Brett Binkley’s school record of 14 saves in a season (1993), but he and his staff had an inkling.
“Yep. Oh yeah,” the skipper said. “Fall ball and preseason he was like a totally different guy.”
Yeah, pretty much. Two bone spurs were a pain the elbow last season, but their removal led to a double dose of improvement. While rehabbing, Gorst was limited to a straight throwing motion in a long-term throwing program.
“In all those bullpen [sessions], I wasn’t allowed to throw a breaking ball so I was like, ‘Man I’m getting tired of throwing straight fastballs over and over again,’ ” he said. “So they’re like, ‘You’re allowed to throw a cutter,’ because you don’t have to pronate your arm. So, I just started throwing cutters.”
As Gorst improved steadily, and that new pitch started jumping around, and as it turned nastier and nastier he got word that he might be the main man on the mound late in games.
“I was doing way better facing hitters and getting a lot of strikeouts,” he said. “[Coach Hall] said, ‘Hey, just so you know, closing is a potential.’ Then, about two weeks before the season they said for sure, ‘You’re our closer.’ ”
That vote of confidence piled on top of a stronger arm and a fancy new pitch built Gorst into something of a machine.
Perhaps nobody saw him allowing just two earned runs in 36 innings while allowing 23 hits, striking out 43 and walking 10, but Hall sure likes what he’s seen.
Although Gorst may not qualify for the Tech single-season ERA record of 1.07 set by Mike Sorrow in 1971 because he may not lot the minimum 50 innings required, it’s not impossible.
He threw a career-long 6.1 innings of scoreless relief last Sunday as the Jackets beat No. 12 Virginia 5-4 so he’s got some long haul in him. Tech has two more games against Boston College at Russ Chandler Stadium, the ACC Tournament and hopefully NCAA action as well.
“He’s more healthy this year, but more than anything he’s a confident guy,” Hall said. “His velocity is up a little bit, and he’s throwing a lot more strikes. A lot of times when guys’ arms aren’t quite right they don’t have the same command, but he’s commanded the baseball well and the cutter is kind of a separator for him.
“He’s been outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s throwing the ball exceptional.”
Sure, a healthy elbow and a sizzling new pitch are big, but a new sense of responsibility has also helped Gorst build faith in himself.
“The cutter has helped me a lot. I had a good breaking ball before, but it wasn’t as hard and I didn’t get as many swing-and-misses on it,” he said.
“It was almost confidence out of necessity because I knew for us to have a good year we were going to have to have a solid back end of the bullpen. I just took the approach that it’s my job to lose now.”