10 questions with New York Yankees pitcher Matt Bowman

A veteran of four seasons in Major League Baseball, 30-year-old right hander Matt Bowman currently finds himself in the New York Yankees minor-league system while he works to get back to full strength following Tommy John surgery in 2020.

Getting his first shot in professional ball, the New York Mets drafted Bowman in the 13th round of the 2012 MLB draft. After spending parts of the next four seasons in the Mets’ system, he had not been added to the 40-man roster and therefore was exposed to the Rule 5 draft.

The St. Louis Cardinals saw something in Matt Bowman and decided to use their first-round — and ultimately, only — pick in the draft on him. While Bowman did not have a strong showing in Spring Training of 2016 (7.00 ERA and .357 batting average-against in nine innings), the Cardinals still had faith in the then-25-year-old. So much so, that they chose to keep him on the big league club all season long, one of the rules of Rule 5 draft picks.

That season was a resounding success for Matt Bowman. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he was not guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, but he turned his 3.46 ERA and 0.5 HR/9 over 67+ innings into another two full seasons with the club. Bowman finished his St. Louis Cardinals tenure with 156 appearances, a 4.02 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 100 ERA+, a successful tenure with the team.

In November of 2018, Matt Bowman was claimed off of waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, getting his first shot in the big leagues with a non-Cardinals team. Bowman’s stint with the Reds began in May of 2019 when they recalled him from their Triple-A affiliate.

Over 27 games and 32 innings, Matt Bowman had a 3.66 ERA while giving up just two home runs, good for an 0.6 HR/9 rate, also allowing just 7.6 H/9, a career-low for the righty.

In September of 2020, Matt Bowman underwent the dreaded Tommy John surgery, ultimately rendering him unavailable for the rest of 2020 and the entirety of 2021. After electing free agency at the end of the 2020 season, the New York Yankees picked him up in December, signing him to a two-year minor-league contract, where he still is today, getting closer and closer everyday to a return to a big league mound.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with New York Yankees pitcher Matt Bowman and pick his brain about his career experiences. Let’s dive in.

1. Who was your first career strikeout victim? Did you keep the ball?

Francisco Cervelli when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the trainers with the Cardinals (Chris Conroy) would take the ball and inscribe the date, batter, and pitch speed/type on the ball and give it to us for big career moments. Definitely still have that one and it looks great thanks to C.C.

2. You were selected in the Rule 5 draft in the 2015-16 offseason. Can you describe the emotions behind getting a phone call letting you know that you are now a member of another organization? Especially since you were leaving the Mets, the only organization you had ever known in your professional career.

To be honest, the moment felt pretty surreal. Partly because the Cardinals didn’t actually call me for a couple of days, so I wasn’t actually convinced it really happened. I was excited by the prospect of going to an organization that saw value in me (you always want to be where you’re wanted), but I also didn’t get my hopes up too much. I was surprised an organization that appeared to be in contention would be considering using an MLB roster spot on someone who couldn’t crack another team’s 40-man roster. I did shift my attitude from thinking about being a work in progress to saying that I had to be a finished product with whatever skillset I currently had. I think that helped speed my development mentally.

3. As a relief pitcher, you obviously don’t get many opportunities to swing the bat. Are you one that is perfectly fine with being far, far away from the batter’s box or are you itching to get the chance to swing the bat?

I would definitely like to be able to take some swings. I was a two-way player in college so, at one point in my playing career, I might have fared better than other pitchers. Generally I want to be as involved in the outcome of a game as possible as long as I’m actually contributing positively. In Triple-A with the Mets, Wally Backman would usually have me hit and run with runners on base instead of bunting. It was fun to get to swing, but had a bit of panic the few times I needed to lay bunts down in the big leagues.

4. What’s it like to see yourself in a video game? I know you’ve been in multiple installments of Out of the Park Baseball and I’d assume MLB The Show as well.

To be honest, I haven’t actually seen what I look like in any of the recent video games. I will say that, in 2016, reps for one of the games (I think MLB The Show) came in and took pictures of us in their special photo booth with like 50 cameras. I was impressed and couldn’t wait to see the final product. Unfortunately, something must have happened to my photo session because one of my teammates showed me my avatar and I looked like I might have starred in The Goonies. I haven’t checked in since.

 5. Throughout your minor league career, you were used pretty much exclusively as a starting pitcher. Upon joining the Cardinals, you were used exclusively out of the bullpen. Can you take me through the process of how that was decided?

I believe the Cardinals had decided to put me in the bullpen when they selected me in the Rule 5 draft. They told me they envisioned my role as being a reliever and possibly a swingman at times. It certainly made a lot of sense to me that I wouldn’t be in contention for a rotation spot, so I started to gather as much information as I could about how to be an effective reliever. I asked plenty of teammates before that season started and during that season how one best prepares for each situation, etc.

6. You underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2020. What kind of effect did that have on your mental health? To make matters worse, you were then non-tendered by the Reds shortly after. Can you take me through the process of what was going through your mind during all of this?

I would say that, mentally, I have fared pretty well. To be honest, the effect that COVID-19 has had on the game may have made it feel like everything was up in the air and everyone was having to make adjustments, so having to sit out was just one of many changes happening. I was not surprised that the Reds non-tendered me; that fell in line with their front office philosophy on retaining value and the effective use of their resources. The hardest part was certainly that I tried to rehab it all of the 2020 season and then ended up having to get surgery done and miss all of 2021 as well.

But I’ve also really focused on the positives. The first being that my elbow had been an issue for me for a long time. When it finally gave out, I was sort of relieved that I would be getting a fresh ligament that I wouldn’t have to constantly coddle. I also thought that the timing could work for me in trying to get the most out of what my relative strengths are. Getting to the big leagues with the Cardinals on a quick schedule was fantastic, but the big leagues are about results and finished products. I really hadn’t been able to re-evaluate my skillset or make meaningful adjustments for a few years, so I have committed myself to attempting to reach my potential ceiling as well as really diving into what makes an effective pitcher. I don’t think the process would have been as fun three to four years ago because the access to information was more limited. I think the current iteration of effective pitching is undergoing a bit of a renaissance and branching out from the spin rate/four-seam revolution.

7. This could easily be a part two to the last question but, just a few months into the 2020-21 offseason, you get a call saying the Yankees are interested in bringing you aboard. What kind of emotions are you feeling after getting that call just a short time after undergoing TJS?

The Yankees actually called the day the Reds non-tendered me. They said they were interested in signing me to a two-year minor league deal with the understanding that I wouldn’t be pitching in 2021. It was certainly nice to see that my skillset would immediately attract another team (even on a minor league deal). I was also excited because the Yankees have always had a reputation for having great resources. I spoke to a few of my friends who had played for them in the big leagues and they had glowing things to say. Helped me to start focusing on the next chapter of rehab and taking advantage of as many resources as I possibly could.

8. As a Rule 5 pick, did you feel immense pressure to perform in the majors? If yes, it certainly did not show. You were able to turn that Rule 5 selection into two consecutive seasons of 59+ appearances.

I certainly felt pressure to perform, but I don’t think that the Rule 5 status factored in much. Going from not being put on the 40-man roster to being on the Opening Day roster for a contender made me wonder if I really had what it took to be in the Major Leagues or if I had somehow stumbled into a situation where I would be over my head. But, as I said before, the immediate need to perform and really view myself as a finished product helped to convince me that my only regrets would be not being aggressive.

9. What is one TV show that you’ve watched all the way through more than once? I know personally, my list is a very long one….

I have a pretty long list of them. The Office is the easiest answer. I’m one of those people that has it on in the background of my life. I’ll fall asleep to it, wake up to it, eat to it, shower to it, work out to it. Others that I’ve watched a more socially acceptable number of times are 30 Rock, Community, Chef’s Table, Futurama, and Dark.

10. You’ve been given the opportunity to be one of the writers that gets a Hall of Fame vote. Who, if anyone, are you voting for on this year’s ballot?

This question is rife with controversy. Luckily, I don’t really think that anyone cares about my opinion and I’m also not someone who knows enough about this to be given a vote. With that being said, I would say that Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, and Andruw Jones would certainly get my vote, while Todd Helton, Bobby Abreu, and Jeff Kent I think would also be deserving.

Thank you so much to New York Yankees pitcher Matt Bowman for taking the time to chat with me. It was a pleasure. Matt is part of the seventh installment of “10 Questions With” that I’ve started. With multiple former and current players in the queue, what kind of questions would you like to see asked to a current or former big leaguer?