Matt Foster is emerging as a high-leverage pitcher for the White Sox once again. Foster burst into the majors with a stellar rookie season in 2020, and expectations were sky-high for him to take another step in his development in 2021. But Foster struggled last season, and he was relegated to mop up duty, or lower pressure outs.
This year, Kendall Graveman has done an outstanding job bridging the gap to Liam Hendriks. But when Graveman has needed a breather, other pitchers have struggled. So, Tony La Russa gave Foster another chance over the past two games, and Foster delivered. On Wednesday, he came in with men on first and third, one out, and the White Sox nursing a one-run lead. Foster induced an infield pop up from Seiya Suzuki, then struck out Ian Happ to retire the Cubs and squash their dreams of a comeback.
“It’s a major confidence boost,” Foster said. “I try to take every opportunity to get onto the field that I can, and not take it for granted, and just go out there and do the best that I can without letting outside things interfere.”
Not letting “outside things interfere” has been the key for Foster this season. Last year, Foster got in his own head too much, and worried about things beyond what he needed to do to record outs. He’s come a long way from that, though, and has added a slider and curveball to his repertoire too. Combine the extra pitches with the confidence boost, and Foster is back to performing at a high level in high-pressure moments.
“The adjustments he’s made from last year, it’s unbelievable,” said Lucas Giolito. “Last year, he knew what needed to improve, and this game is so tough, sometimes you just can’t make that adjustment immediately… He took the bull by the horns and now he’s back doing what he can do.”
La Russa isn’t surprised by Foster’s comeback either. He knew he had it in him based off of his past work.
“The beginning of the season last year, we were in LA, and Game 2, brought him in in an impossible situation, and he struck out the first two guys with the bases loaded,” La Russa said.
Those two guys weren’t any two guys, either. It was Shohei Ohtani followed by Mike Trout. Foster got Anthony Rendon to pop up to right field for what should have been the inning-ending out, but Adam Eaton dropped the ball and two runs scored. But it was no matter. Foster dug in and struck out the next batter to avoid further damage.
“He showed amazing guts,” La Russa said.
Now, La Russa sees Foster making good pitches with a good delivery again. And once again La Russa sees Foster coming through with the game on the line.
“That escape in the eighth inning, I’m going to remember that for a long time.”