Bangor’s Matt Kinney had been a starting pitcher for virtually his entire career. Entering this season, the former sixth round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox (1995) had made 51 starts among his 55 major league appearances.
But after going 0-2 with an 8.61 earned-run average in his first five starts for the Milwaukee Brewers at the beginning of this season, he was relegated to the bullpen, where he has found success as a long reliever.
“I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out but it has worked out pretty well for me. My velocity is back to normal,” said Kinney, who has a 3.13 ERA in his 26 relief appearances.
He hasn’t allowed a run in 18 of his 26 relief stints.
He said being a reliever requires a different mentality.
“As a reliever, you have to be ready to pitch every day. As a starter, you know you’re going to pitch every fifth day,” said the 27-year-old former Bangor High and Bangor American Legion team star. “I’d rather be a reliever in the big leagues than a starter in AAA.”
He has struck out 27 and walked just eight out of the bullpen after striking out 17 and walking 15 as a starter.
“Relievers have to throw strikes. You can’t put guys on base. That has helped me a lot mentally. You need to throw strikes and get some quick outs. I’ve been throwing a lot more strikes [as a reliever]. If you can get ahead in the count, then you can throw the ball out of the zone [to try to get them to chase it],” said Kinney. “When I was starting, I wasn’t getting ahead of many guys.”
Kinney also said he likes the fact he doesn’t have to pace himself.
“When you know you’re going to pitch just one or two innings, you don’t have to worry about saving anything,” said Kinney.
Kinney admitted that he probably made a mistake by pacing himself as a starter instead of just throwing as hard as he could for as long as he could like he does now.
He said his arm feels great and his fastball has been reaching as high as 97 miles an hour from time to time on the radar gun.
He has been throwing his fastball in the 92-95 mph range consistently. He also throws a slider, curve and changeup.
He pitched in both games of a doubleheader and said it didn’t bother his shoulder at all.
“Matt has found his niche using that good stuff he has in a short burst,” said Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux. “His resiliency allows us to use him four times a week if necessary.”
Kinney, who makes $400,000 a year, began his career in the Red Sox organization until he was sent to Minnesota in a multi-player deal on July 31, 1998. He was traded by the Twins to the Brewers in another multi-player transaction on Nov. 15, 2002.
“This is my favorite place,” said Kinney, who lives near the Brewers’ Miller Park and enjoys the city, his teammates and the fans, as well as the state-of-the-art ballpark.
He would like to return to Milwaukee next season, but said it is his arbitration year and he is uncertain of his future.
He likes being in the National League because, without the designated hitter, teams have to pinch-hit for the pitcher and that means they will have to use more pitchers.
“There are a lot more opportunities [for pitchers] in the National League,” said the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Kinney who is 3-4 with a 5.78 ERA on the year.
“I just want to keep pitching in the big leagues,” said Kinney.