LOWELL, Mass. -- Roughly a dozen major league scouts were behind the plate at Alumni Stadium, radar guns at the ready, to watch Lowell’s Matt Tulley go up against Lexington’s Chris Shaw on Monday.
Lowell’s hard-throwing right-hander got the better of the battle, holding Shaw to 0-for-3 during his at-bats against him.
He was also a big reason his team was able to come away with the 13-3 victory over the Minutemen (0-1). He struck out 10 batters, while allowing only two hits, over five innings.
“I’ve played against Chris for probably three or four years now,” said Tulley. “I was with him in California [last summer at Area Code Games] and talked to him a bit and kind of got some hints from that. I just attacked him. No fear. I don’t fear anyone.”
The only blemish to Tulley’s box score came in the first inning. Lexington's Nick Murray lead off the game with a fly ball to right field. The right fielder, Roger Roman, made a play at the ball, but appeared to misjudge it in the wind. He spun around, missed the ball, which allowed it to roll all the way to the wall.
Murray was able to get to third on the play, and was driven by a Shaw sacrifice fly two batters later.
Lowell (3-0) answered back in the bottom of the first with hits by Derek Reed, Tulley, and Chad Gens. Reed hit a two-out triple, and was driven home by Tulley’s double. Gens got up after him and hit a bomb to left-center that cleared the 365-foot wall with ease.
After that, Tulley got rolling. He struck out three batters in both the second and fourth innings. He did not allow an official hit until the fourth.
The Lowell offense tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fourth, and blew the game open in the fifth with a four-hit inning that saw seven players cross the plate.
“I said in the beginning of the year that I really like our pitching, I like our defense, but what I really think could be a difference-maker for us is our lineup,” said Lowell coach Dan Graham. “I think one through nine, if the kids have quality at-bats, we can get to any starter. That’s what we want to do and see what happens from there. I expect offense. With a kid like Matty on the mount, I’ll take 13 runs for sure.”
What Pressure? One could not help but be distracted by the bevy of MLB scouts stationed behind the backstop with their team-branded travel bags and team logos on their shirts. They had all arrived well before game time and made their way down the first base line to watch Tulley throw his pregame bullpen session.
As the game started, they each made their way back to their marked territory behind the plate. Some even took out handheld video cameras to watch Tulley’s delivery or Shaw’s swing at the plate and play in the field. The scouts were often scribbling in their notepads, checking their cell phones, or talking amongst themselves, but appeared to spring to life whenever Shaw came to the plate against Tulley.
Some even darted down the left field line, beyond the Lexington dugout, to get a side look at Shaw’s swing.
Their radar guns rose and fell in unison after every pitch, like a section of a symphony orchestra preparing to play its part in a song.
If a group of scouts drew this much attention from onlookers, the players had to have noticed them too, right?
“No, I didn’t notice,” said Tulley.
“Really?” he replied after being told there was at least a dozen watching him. “I mean, I see them back there, but I just try not to think about it because last game, I struggled and I didn’t really do good. That’s probably why I didn’t do good, because I was thinking too much.”
Improved Outing: While the final stat line for Tulley looks imposing, there were still things that Graham felt could have been better from his star pitcher. However, he is well aware there is a long season ahead.
While he ended the game with 10 strikeouts, he threw 3 balls to seven of the 21 batters he faced, including all four of the batters he faced in the fifth inning. However, when he was able to get ahead in counts, like in the second and fourth innings, he was able to attack the zone and come away with outs.
“He was better than his first time out,” said Graham. “It’s so early in the season too. If he’s in 2-0 counts and kids are sitting dead-red fastball and they’re going to be aggressive on it, they’re going to put balls in play. When he gets ahead in counts and gets in a groove and he starts using his off-speed pitches, he’s very tough. He had flashes of it in the middle innings, maybe the third, fourth inning it looked like he was getting in a little bit of a groove.
Even from a pitch count standpoint, I think he threw 97 pitches in five innings, which is kind of high for a point this early in the season. So he’s better, but he’s not where he’s gonna need to be.”