Hockenberry quickly returns to the area

Matt Hockenberry, a starter for Temple this past season, has been working as a reliever. He earned a save in his first appearance for Lakewood.
Matt Hockenberry, a starter for Temple this past season, has been working as a reliever. He earned a save in his first appearance for Lakewood. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 07, 2014

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Matt Hockenberry missed the call that would tell him he was going home. Tired out by the Clearwater, Fla., heat, the 23-year-old Gulf Coast Phillies righthander took a nap after the team's game June 23.

When he awoke, Hockenberry answered his roommate's phone after missing his own call. Florida Gulf Coast pitching coach Steve Schrenk was on the line, telling Hockenberry to pack his bags and join the Lakewood BlueClaws, in Greensboro, N.C., after just one appearance for the Gulf Coast Phillies.

"My heart just started racing, it was pure excitement," Hockenberry said.

Just weeks removed from finishing out his final season for a dying baseball program at Temple, the Phillies' ninth-round draft pick received his first professional promotion. Better yet, he'd be coming back home, close to Philadelphia.

Before he moved to Malvern as a high school sophomore, Hockenberry lived in Waynesboro, close to the low-A Hagerstown (Md.) Suns. As a kid, he attended Suns games with his father. Tuesday night, he earned his first professional save against his old hometown team.

He entered the game in a pressure situation, with Lakewood holding a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning. Though he gave up a one-out double, Hockenberry followed by inducing a pop-up to first base for the second out and a grounder to first base to seal the win. His fastball was around 90 m.p.h. in the outing.

Despite the successful save conversion, Hockenberry views pitching out of the bullpen as his biggest adjustment to professional baseball. He made nine relief appearances during his junior year at Temple in 2013, but he was a starter in 2014, so he isn't yet accustomed to the routine of a relief pitcher.

"It's getting better every day," Hockenberry said. "If they want to bring me in the closer role, or just the late-inning role, I'm going to put my mind to it, commit to what they're asking me to do, and get the job done so we get more wins."

For this year, at least, he will have to adjust. Because he threw 931/3 innings at Temple this season, the organization wants him in the bullpen to minimize his workload.

Hockenberry's transition to relief pitcher began after the MLB draft, when he spent about two weeks in Clearwater. There, the organization worked with him on adjusting his lower-body mechanics.

Lakewood manager Greg Legg likes what he has seen so far, particularly in Hockenberry's save and how he rose to the occasion for a bullpen depleted by a 15-inning game the night before.

"He went after him. He said, 'Here, I got this, hit it,' " Legg said Tuesday. "He pitched inside well. We had to put him in that situation today, and he performed. We'd give him another chance at it."

The save occurred on July 1, the day the Temple baseball program officially ceased to exist. Through Hockenberry, it lives on.


mcohen@phillynews.com

@MaxACohen

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