Braves pitcher Tyler Matzek hopes to end stigma around mental health

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

SEATTLE — The breakthrough in Tyler Matzek’s mental health journey came when he met Jason Kuhn, a Navy SEAL who provided Matzek with perspective on everything.

“His biggest thing was, ‘We’re not the best fighters in the world, but what we do the best is we control our emotions and control our thoughts better than other people in pressure situations,’” Matzek recalled on Saturday. “That’s it, that’s what makes them elite. So I was like, ‘OK, how can I incorporate that into baseball and how can I incorporate that into every aspect of my life?’

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“Not everybody gets to play baseball, but everybody can incorporate that into their life on a day-to-day basis. It’s all about just making the right choice at that point, no matter what stress you’re under, to relieve stress and make yourself go in a better position tomorrow.”

To Matzek, Kuhn also said something like this: “Dude, I’m nothing special physically, it’s all in my mind. My mind is better than 90% of the people’s minds in this world, and that’s the separator.”

This stayed with Matzek, who has used his platform to promote mental health since then. Matzek is the Braves’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to “the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field,” according to MLB.

Among other endeavors in the community, Matzek is heavily involved with Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression, a nonprofit focused on helping athletes deal with anxiety and depression. He is donating $250 for every strikeout he records this season to AAAD.

Matzek, Colorado’s first-round pick in 2009, eventually was out of baseball for five years. He returned in 2020 and has carved out a great career since. He has conquered the yips and performance anxiety. Matzek is focused on helping end the stigma surrounding mental health.

Asked what that means to him, he said: “I want to open up the world to what truly mental health is, and how, through understanding what it is and allowing people to talk about it, we can help end the stigma that goes around with it. It makes people just better human beings if we can talk about our feelings and our emotions. We’re emotional creatures. We don’t allow ourselves to be ourselves. If you can end the stigma, end the idea that you’re in any way, shape or form just because you don’t want to talk about your emotions, or just because you can’t, that’s kind of what ending the stigma is all about.”

Matzek is using his success on the mound to aid mental health efforts.

“I think that when you’re given a platform like this, it’s a responsibility to do something good with it,” Matzek said. “I’m just extremely honored that all these avenues have opened up for me to help other people.”

Can Huascar Ynoa still be a part of the Braves’ future?

Manager Brian Snitker has often been complimentary of right-hander Huascar Ynoa. After the Braves optioned the righty in April, Snitker said he felt like Ynoa would still be a big part of what Atlanta did this season.

Ynoa on Wednesday underwent Tommy John surgery. It typically takes pitchers 12 to 18 months to return, which means Ynoa likely won’t pitch again until 2024. He has not been the same since breaking his hand last year.

Does Snitker still think the 24-year-old Ynoa is part of the future in Atlanta?

“I kind of still do,” Snitker said. “I just always loved his upside, his arm, what we saw out of him. Unfortunate the (hand) accident happened and then he just never got it going again, but I always kind of feel like the guy’s got too much upside to not feel that way about him. Hopefully he comes out of this OK and he’s healthy again when he’s done and can be a part, because he’s still young. That’s the thing, he’s still got a lot of miles left on him.”

Braves’ rotation for San Francisco

The Braves are flipping Spencer Strider and Kyle Wright in San Francisco. Strider, who pitched in the second game in Oakland, Calif., will start Monday’s series opener. Wright, who pitched the Oakland opener, will go on Tuesday.

The Braves were off Thursday, which means Strider will go on regular rest and Wright will have a week between starts.

Charlie Morton will start the series finale for Atlanta.

In order, the Giants will send righty Alex Cobb, righty Jakob Junis and lefty Carlos Rodon to the mound against the Braves.