As he rehabs from surgery, Braves’ Tyler Matzek hopes best is ahead of him

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek is honored as the Braves nomination for the Roberto Clemente award before the Braves game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park, Sept. 17, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek is honored as the Braves nomination for the Roberto Clemente award before the Braves game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park, Sept. 17, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

When Tyler Matzek received the diagnosis – that an MRI revealed he had a 50% tear of his ulnar collateral ligament – he did not immediately feel anger, frustration or despair at needing Tommy John surgery.

He felt relieved.

“It was kind of just like, ‘Oh OK, well, that makes sense. This is something we can fix. That sounds good,’” Matzek recalled in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

To understand why he thought this way, you must grasp what he had gone through in the weeks leading up to that.

Matzek, who is a power pitcher, had watched his velocity drop – sometimes by as much as 5-7 mph. The reliever began searching for answers. “It was very uncomfortable,” he said of that confusing time.

His back, which had bothered him during a part of the season, felt fine. His shoulder was OK. He felt some discomfort in his forearm area – specifically the flexor tendon – and knew he would have to be evaluated.

But he didn’t expect to need Tommy John surgery.

In fact, when he reported the flexor tendon discomfort to the team, he did so because the Braves had a few days off before beginning the National League Division Series. Matzek figured it would be smart to get an MRI to ensure the discomfort was coming from the flexor tendon. If it was, he would be able to pitch through it in the postseason.

The problem turned out to be much more serious.

It also provided him with answers for the concerning drop in velocity.

“The doctors kind of explained to me, ‘Well, your body can subconsciously know that there’s something messed up and it stops going so hard. Whether you’re trying to push it as hard as you possibly can, it won’t let it go so that you can break it,’” Matzek said. “And I think that’s what was happening.”

In October, Matzek flew to Texas and underwent Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. Keith Meister, who is the Rangers’ doctor. “He did a great job,” Matzek said. “It feels great right now and I’m happy with how it’s going.” These days, Matzek is rehabbing at Truist Park, surrounded by medical staff, equipped with the best technology.

The typical recovery timeline for pitchers who undergo this procedure is 12-18 months, meaning the Braves don’t expect Matzek to pitch in 2023. In November, they signed him to a two-year, $3.1 million deal that includes a $5.5 million club option with no buyout for the 2025 season.

In a way, this rehab could represent a reset button for Matzek, who is beloved by fans for his performance in the 2021 postseason and his personality. He had a rough 2022, but with the procedure, its rehab and more, you start to wonder …

Could the left-hander’s best be ahead?

“I mean, I hope so,” Matzek said. “I truly do. I think I can go out there and pitch every year, like I did in ‘21 if I’m healthy. (Despite) this not being a great health year in ‘22, I can still hang my hat on (how) I went out there and competed. I didn’t have my best stuff and still did OK. Knowing that you’re out there fighting with one hand behind your back, I can at least look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I gave it (my) best (with) what I got that day.’ And yeah, if I want to be my best, I gotta be healthy. I’m just looking forward to being at my best when I’m healthy.”

Matzek is already a couple months into the process. He’s been strengthening different parts of his body – his forearm, his shoulder, his core. This rehab also gave his back, which was bothering him all the way back in spring training, a chance to calm down. Matzek also landed on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation last season.

Due to certain ailments during the season, Matzek had to back off of his specific weight training regimen, which includes elements he needs to be the pitcher he wants. It could’ve affected him.

“I’m a power pitcher,” Matzek said. “I like to exert force in my delivery, in my game. It was kind of not the best thing for me to not be able to do that.”

In 2022, Matzek posted a 3.50 ERA over 43-2/3 innings. After his fastball averaged 96 mph in 2021, it averaged only 94.1 mph last season.

“Obviously 2022 was a little bit of a disappointment in the sense that I just couldn’t stay healthy, couldn’t stay on the field,” Matzek said. “You know, I’ve never really had to deal with anything like that in my career before. I like to look at the positive: I’ve been fortunate to make it to 32 (years old) being healthy and playing a sport that is pretty easy to get hurt (in).”

Matzek said he sees pitchers like Justin Verlander – who had Tommy John surgery and then won his third Cy Young Award at age 39 last season – and hopes he can have a similar second wind. This process could allow Matzek to rest, recover, rehab and return better than ever.

With a two-year deal, the Braves provided him the security to rehab while knowing where he’ll pitch in 2024. “The Braves, they’re a good organization where they don’t just use their players, abuse their players and then dump them,” he said. Matzek will make $1.2 million in 2023 and $1.9 million the next year. This would be a bargain for a late-inning lefty, which the Braves still believe Matzek can be if all goes well.

The Tommy John surgery rehab process is lengthy. It can be monotonous.

“You just kind of take it one day at a time is the way you do it – same way you take a season, just one day at a time,” Matzek said.

That can be difficult. Matzek said there’s a healthy balance between the player and the medical staff – some push-pull, if you will. A player might want to speed up the process and avoid plateauing, and sometimes gets his wish. But the medical experts are there to provide an objective view of the rehab process and steer it in a safe direction.

After Luke Jackson underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring, he was around the clubhouse during his rehab. Matzek hopes to be present as much as possible, but isn’t sure about the exact logistics.

“It’s always one of those weird things where you don’t know what time to come in, (how) not to get in the way of the team,” he said. “They gotta go out and win games, and I understand that. But it’s always nice to be around the players and your friends and stuff, as long as you’re not a distraction.”

For now, Matzek will keep pushing forward in his rehab. He’s glad this situation has a resolution.

Instead of continuing to wonder what was happening to him, he discovered the problem. Relief comes in the clarity.

Before catching on with the Braves, Matzek spent four full seasons out of the major leagues. He has also conquered the yips during his career.

He has overcome different challenges, and feels grateful to even be in a position to eventually continue pitching.

“Every day where I’m on a big league roster, or just even in an organization, is a great, great, blessed day,” Matzek said. “I just take it one day at a time, enjoy the present moment. I’ve been through good times, been through bad times. I live for those good times and just get through those bad times. Right now we’re kind of in those ‘bad times,’ but the way you get out of that is just looking forward to get to the good times.

“And I’m looking forward to possibly pitching in October next year. If that’s not a possibility, start refreshed and feeling good in 2024, and come out in spring training ready to rock and roll.”