The first Friday-night start of Matt Krook’s collegiate career may have been a matter of mere technicality. With the current trajectory the fireballing lefty is travelling though, it won’t be long before he finds a home in the Friday slot as one of the top college aces in the nation.
Because of the ominous weekend forecast heading into Oregon’s three-game series at Stanford, an impromptu doubleheader was scheduled for Friday at Sunken Diamond. And with Krook having solidified himself as the No. 2 starter in the Ducks’ rotation this year, Game 2 of the twin bill fell to him.
The freshman southpaw did not disappoint. Pitching in front of family and friends came out to support the San Mateo native in force, Krook delivered seven innings of two-hit baseball, allowing just one run while striking out seven against two walks in taking a no-decision in a game Stanford would go on to win 2-1 in 11 innings.
“It was really exciting coming back here,” Krook said. “I miss the Bay Area a lot. Seeing my friends and family here [Friday] night, it was really cool. It’s just something you can’t get anywhere else.”
A 2013 graduate of St. Ignatius, Krook was the talk of Bay Area amateur baseball last season when he was drafted in the supplemental first round (35th overall) by the Marlins. Negotiations went down to the wire before Krook opted to take the college route via full athletic scholarship to Oregon.
The reigning All-West Catholic Athletic League pitcher is picking up right where he left off as a collegiate rookie, currently touting a 2-1 record through seven starts with a team-best 1.88 ERA and a Pac-12 best 56 strikeouts.
Krook’s Achilles’ heel, even in high school, was his control. As a 6-foot-3 lefty who touches 95 mph on the radar gun, control issues are to be expected. But Friday he was able to wrestle the command of his four-pitch repertoire to the tune of just two walks for one of his best outings of the season.
“I felt good,” Krook said. “I was throwing more strikes than I have been because my first few starts I struggled with throwing strikes. … So, I felt really good. I felt really locked in.”
Known for his exceptional fastball-curveball combination in high school, Krook didn’t really have to use much more to succeed in the prep ranks. No sooner did he arrive in Eugene last fall, however, did the focus become his need to refine his changeup in working with Oregon manager George Horton and pitching coach Dean Stiles.
“His stuff is so dominant,” Stiles said. “His fastball is so dominant. He can throw his curveball for a strike at any time and now he’s developed a changeup that he’s confident with. So when you have … four pitches, mixing his slider, he’s got enough tools and enough weapons that he obviously can be really effective.”
In the fall, Oregon was touting an exceptionally deep pitching staff. Moraga-native Jeff Gold — the senior is off to a 7-0 start this season — was a fixture in the rotation last year. Also slated to return was Cole Irvin, who as a freshman last season posted a 12-3 record to set Oregon’s all-time single-season wins mark. Right-hander Jeff Reed, who eclipsed the 100-inning mark for the Ducks last season, entered his junior campaign this year.
But injury struck when Irvin was lost for the year to Tommy John surgery. Also, closer Jimmy Sherfy was selected by the Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2013 draft after tabbing 40 saves over his two final seasons at Oregon, causing the Ducks to move Reed into the closer’s role. So with two starting spots up for grabs, Krook quickly solidified himself in the Oregon rotation.
Friday night, under the lights at Sunken Diamond where he would so often watch games growing up, Krook lived up to the hype.
“I’m very happy with his results,” Stiles said. “That’s our goal, is to keep climbing up the mountain and each outing that he’s had has been more and more spectacular. His pitch count was extended. His control was fabulous — his poise. So, he’s developed into a really solid competitor.”
The confidence-factor is a plus too, as Krook said it was all smooth sailing pitching in front of the hometown crowd.
“I wasn’t nervous at all, which is weird,” he said. “I’m starting to become less and less nervous as the season goes on. Pretty much the nerves are gone.”
That’s good, because it won’t be long before the national spotlight shines once again on the talented lefty.