No matter the inning, fifth, seventh or ninth, Matt Leon is always ready to step out of the bullpen with the game on the line.
Seton Hall’s new closer, Leon is replacing Zach Prendergast who graduated last year and Leon is perhaps the most consistent and versatile relief pitcher this year for coach Rob Sheppard’s Pirates.
“Matt is a product of his work ethic and I couldn’t be happier for a young man, who, especially in his senior year, can be relied upon in the bullpen,” Sheppard said. “He’s a determined young man and we’re really glad he’s off to a good start.”
Leon has been a force in relief for the Pirates this season. The right-hander has yet to allow a run in his three appearances, striking out nine batters in his 4.1 combined innings of work. Leon is also holding opposing batters to a lowly .235 batting average against, and is yet to allow an extra base hit this season.
“I just want to do whatever job is asked so whether that’s coming [into the game] in the sixth inning or coming in at the end,” Leon said. “I just go in there and try to be the aggressor.”
The senior from Bethlehem, Pa., showed that versatility in the first series of the season against No. 23 N.C. State from Feb. 16-18. In the Pirates’ second matchup against the Wolfpack, Leon entered the game in the fifth inning and proceeded to strike out six of the seven hitters he faced, helping Seton Hall climb out of trouble. It was in the final game of the series, a win, where Leon showed his tough mental makeup by shutting the door en route to his first save of the year.
“He’s a guy who wants the ball late in the game,” Sheppard said. “He threw strikes and got ahead of hitters just like you preach to all your pitchers. He went out there and competed and challenged the hitters.”
The two appearances in the series earned Leon the first Big East Pitcher of the Week award of the season.
“It’s great, but we’ve always got another game coming up,” Leon said. “More importantly, we won on Sunday, but it’s always nice to be recognized.”
With the Hall in the midst of a tough non-conference schedule, Leon knows the Pirates must be ready every game.
“It’s all about taking advantage of our opportunities,” Leon said. “In the series against N.C. State, we were pretty much in every game until a turning point where we didn’t take advantage. On Sunday, we took the opportunity and hit the ball well with the bullpen shutting the game down. If we follow that formula and get some good starts early, it will lead to success.”
Being a four-year pitcher, Leon has what it takes to win and knows how to lead by example.
“He provides great leadership for this team,” Sheppard said. “The senior class as a whole works really hard and sets the tone for the other players. Matt being a guy that the other players can rely on, he shoulders that responsibility with a lot of humility.”
To be successful this season, the Pirates will need pitchers who can get the team out of tough situations in the middle innings, and pitchers who can close the deal in the final frame. In the case of Leon, the situation does not matter. Give him the ball, and he will get to work, whenever that may be.
Nick Santoriello can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NickSantoriello.