When the Los Angeles Angels decided to scratch Jered Weaver from his scheduled start against the Seattle Mariners, they gave the ball to—not veterans Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton—first-time call-up Matt Shoemaker. The 26-year-old rookie responded with a pitching performance that turned heads: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO.
My goal as a little kid was to play in the Major Leagues. Now my goal slowly turns into 'I want to make a career out of the Major Leagues.' That's just my continual goal -- get better every day and learn something new for myself. —Matt Shoemaker
Shoemaker exited at the bottom of the fifth inning having thrown 92 pitches, 60 for strikes. The only thing missing from his final line was the win; Shoemaker exited with the two teams in a 0-0 tie that was eventually broken by the Angels’ Chris Ianetta’s walk-off RBI single.
According to Angels PR, the only other Angels pitcher to throw five strikeouts and not allow a run in their major league debut was Weaver (May 27, 2006). Displaying poise beyond his years, Shoemaker registered a strikeout against the first batter he faced, Dustin Ackley. He then proceeded to throw an effective mix of fastballs, change-ups and split-finger fastballs. The split-finger pitch, something he’d been working on at Salt Lake this season, was particularly effective at fooling batters, and it kept catcher Hank Conger busy behind the plate.
Shoemaker’s start on Friday, Sept. 20, was the the first major league exposure of any kind for the 6’ 2”, 225 lb. right-hander from Wyandotte, Michigan, who has yet to even garner a big league spring training invite. While he may not have been well known to Angels’ fans, Shoemaker had been the ace of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees’ starting rotation in 2013, leading the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in game starts (29 GS), innings pitched (184.1 IP) and strikeouts (160 SO). The durable Shoemaker spent his first full season with the Bees in 2012, again leading the PCL in innings pitched (176.2) and tied for first in game starts (29 GS).
In 2011, Shoemaker spent the majority of the season with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, where he led the Texas League (TL) in earned run average (2.48 ERA), strikeouts (129 SO), shutouts (2 SHO) complete games (5 CG) and walks plus hits per inning pitched (1.07 WHIP). That year he was named TL Pitcher of the Week three times, midseason TL All-Star, postseason TL All-Star, TL Pitcher of the Year and Angels’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He also earned a bronze medal in the World Cup and a silver medal in the Pan American Games as a member of Team USA.
With these career stats in his C.V., it’s surprising to note that Shoemaker was never drafted by any MLB organization. He was signed in 2008 as a non-drafted free agent, after having graduated from Eastern Michigan University.