A chainsaw sound effect buzzes over the sound system at Goss Stadium in Corvallis each time an Oregon State pitcher records a strikeout. That was Quinn Mathews first impression of future teammate Cooper Hjerpe.

Mathews picked up his first career save in Stanford’s 1-0 extra-inning win over the Beavers on April 1, 2022, but Hjerpe’s 17-strikeout performance rang in Mathews’ head when the game ended.

“We all talked about having nightmares that night, even though we’d won the game it was still nightmares – we heard that chainsaw playing 21 times in our head and Hjerpe got 17 of those, so it was a pretty good game for him, but the Cardinal came away with the win at the end of the day, so that’s all that matters,” Mathews said.

Now the former Pac-12 rivals are reunited in the Ozarks, and they’ve wasted no time making noise.

Hjerpe earned Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors for the second straight week after he followed up five innings of no-hit ball at Corpus Christi on June 20 with a nearly identical gem at Hammons Field on June 26. Hjerpe threw a season-high 78 pitches and punched out eight Arkansas batters over another hitless five innings.

“I saw a little bit of fire in him pitching, I didn’t see that in spring training,” manager Jose Leger said about Hjerpe’s first month in Double-A. “The season plays out differently when those lights come on and you’re playing for something. I saw a little bit of emotion in him – I like that.”

The Cards first round pick in 2022 remains on a leash – five innings or 80 pitches, whichever comes first.

“He knew he wasn’t going to go more than five innings, so he knew coming in – it wasn’t a hard conversation,” Leger said. “We try to be transparent with him.”

While the Cards are cautious with Hjerpe’s workload – interrupting consecutive no-hit bids after 64 and 78 pitches – durability is a hallmark of Mathews’ game.

Mathews raised eyebrows at Stanford with a 156-pitch complete game win over Texas in the 2023 College World Series Super Regional and he’s thrown 90 pitches or more in six starts this season.

He started the spring in Palm Beach, made seven starts in Peoria, and reached Springfield before Independence Day. Mathews is 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.78 WHIP over 79 2/3 innings, and he’s struck out 113 (12.8 per 9) against just 23 walks.

Baseball America ranked Mathews in its Midseason Top 100 Prospects List and noted “few players have been as big a surprise in the minors as Mathews.”

On Tuesday, the 6-foot-5 lefty’s meteoric rise continued.

Mathews received an invitation to the MLB Future’s Game on July 13, where he’ll represent St. Louis along with St. Louis’ top prospect Tink Hence, who will make his second appearance in the showcase if health allows.

Mathews – who’s pregame routine includes always tying his right shoe first, a nod to soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo – enjoyed a strong debut in Springfield on Sunday, tossing 5 1/3 innings and yielding two unearned runs on one hit in the Cards’ 8-2 win over Arkansas.

“I saw him a little bit in spring training,” Leger said. “Definitely a big-league arm – very excited (to see) him. When you’re a lefty and you can miss bats, watch out.”

Hjerpe is impressed too.

“The guy’s got velo that came out of nowhere, I’m still trying to pick his brain on that,” Hjerpe said of Mathews. “He’s a great guy, ultimate competitor, he’s going to go out there and shove everything in the zone.”

Springfield already banked a spot in the 2024 Texas League playoffs as the club won the North Division first half race. With a rotation headlined by Hence, Hjerpe and Mathews, expectations for the second half are high – though Tink battled injuries and fatigue and pitched just three innings in two June starts.

“We’re waiting to see what the medical department says,” Leger said. “The second time we had to take him out of the game, the first time (he) was dehydrated, it was really hot – and it was (the same) in Corpus, it was really hot and humid – I don’t have an (update) on how he is currently.”

Tekoah Roby, the Cards’ No. 5 prospect per MLB.com is also on the shelf and hasn’t pitched since May 14. Leger said his return will take time.

“With him its going to be a little slower,” Leger said. “Right now, he hasn’t thrown in a while – hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll know where he’ll be with his throwing program.”

 

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505