(Tracy Proffitt/Hickory Crawdads)

The Asheville Tourists go into the final homestand of the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) first half on a relatively strong note, winning four of their past seven games. The T’s won three of four at home from Kannapolis and then lost two of three games at Lexington.

Those who attended last Saturday’s (June 7) game saw an outstanding performance from outfielder Raimel Tapia. The 20-year-old notched five hits and drove in four runs. The biggest of those hits was a home run in the bottom of the 13th inning, which gave the Tourists a walkoff 7-5 win.

Asheville still has a shot at catching Savannah in the SAL’s Southern Division for a first-place tie. But with five games remaining in the season’s first half, it seems unlikely. Ending the first half on a good note and looking ahead toward earning a playoff spot in the second half is probably more realistic for manager Fred Ocasio’s club.

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Former Tourists pitcher Eddie Butler’s up-and-down week

Last week, former Tourists pitcher Eddie Butler got the call up to the majors, completing his fast rise through the Colorado Rockies organization. Unfortunately, his major league debut last Friday didn’t go so well. Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, Butler was knocked around for six runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings and took the loss.

Making matters worse, Butler complained of a sore right shoulder the next day. The Rockies subsequently placed the pitcher on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation. But this raised serious concerns about Butler’s health. An alarming number of pitchers have suffered significant elbow injuries in Major League Baseball this year. (More on that later.) Yet shoulder injuries can be much more difficult to recover from.

Fortunately for Butler, an MRI exam showed no structural damage in his shoulder and the Rockies believe he’ll be fine after resting for a few days. The team does want Butler to pitch on a minor-league rehab assignment before returning to Colorado, however. Wouldn’t that be fun if he did so in Asheville? But that might be unlikely with the SAL taking its All-Star break from June 16-18.

Tyler Matzek

Tourists alum Matzek shines for Rockies

Ironically, another former Tourists pitcher actually benefited from Butler’s misfortune. Left-hander Tyler Matzek, who pitched in Asheville during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, was called up from the minors to take Butler’s place in the Rockies’ starting rotation. The 23-year-old had been pitching for the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs, compiling a 5-4 record and 4.05 ERA in 12 appearances.

Matzek pitched for the Rockies on Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves, and his first major league start was an impressive one. He pitched seven innings, allowing two runs and five hits to earn the victory.

The most pleasant surprise about Matzek’s effort is that he didn’t walk any opposing batters. Those who have followed Matzek’s career, especially during his two stints with the Tourists, know that controlling the location of his pitches and keeping them in the strike zone was a significant issue in his early development as a professional ballplayer.

In 2010 with the Tourists, he issued 62 walks in 89 1/3 innings, a far higher number than any baseball team would prefer to see from a pitcher. But given how many batters Matzek could also strike out (he wiped out 88 batters), that was almost acceptable. The Rockies promoted Matzek to high-Class A Modesto the following season, but he continued to struggle with his control. He walked 46 batters in 33 innings during his 10 starts, and was sent back to Asheville.

Following three starts with the Tourists, Matzek was sent home to California to work on his mechanics with his high school pitching coach. By mid-July, he returned to Asheville and made nine more starts in 2011, but still had plenty of work to do in refining his pitching delivery.

However, after three years and 66 more games, Matzek seems to have finally figured things out and looks like the pitcher the Rockies believed he could be when they made him a first-round draft selection in 2009. His next start will be on Monday against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

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Get your Mr. Moon Bobblearms doll!

We mentioned a few promotions the Tourists have held at McCormick Field this season. But one of the best might be coming this Saturday (June 14). The first 1,000 people in attendance will receive a Mr. Moon “Bobblearms” doll. Yes — bobblearms, not bobblehead. How does it work? Check out this Vine posted by the Tourists on Monday. This looks like a must-have for Asheville baseball fans and bobblehead collectors.

*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on Thursday June 12 (a Thirsty Thursday!) for a four-game series with the Rome Braves. On Friday, stay for post-game fireworks. And then there are those bobblearms dolls on Saturday. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.

Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter

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