When the chips are down, the ‘Runners can usually count on ol’ Matty to do something positive at the plate.

Robert Matlock really isn’t that old (25) but like Tommy “Ol’Reliable” Henrich used to do for the Yankees from 1937 to 1950, the Tennessee-born outfielder is a clutch and dependable hitter in the lineup. This season, fresh off a team Offensive MVP year in which he hit .329 with 33 steals, the lefty swinger is right up among the leaders again, at .336 heading into the weekend against Rio Grande Valley.

Matlock, who has been in left field all summer after seeing considerable time at first base his first two seasons with the club, has been a tough out, partially due to his great ability to wait on a good pitch.

“I have always been pretty patient, never struck out that much,” said Matlock, who starred for Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., from 2004 to 2007. “But this year I have been walking more than ever, I guess I am just being more patient.”

In 2009, his first full year in town, he walked 32 times and struck out 17 times. But as the ‘Runners have held first place most of the year, Matty’s increased that ratio, with 36 bases on balls to just 11 K’s.

“I’m one of these guys, I will change my swing when there are two strikes,” he explained. “I will do anything to touch that ball and keep the at-bat alive.”

Edinburg manager Vince Moore considers Matlock to be one of the most valuable members of the team, because he can do everything pretty well.

“Hitting, defense, baserunning…Matty is solid in all three,” said Moore before Saturday’s doubleheader with the WhiteWings. “And he is faster than you think he is. He’ll put the ball in play and this year, yep, he’s been walking more.”

The manager said that he’s always been after Matlock to draw more free passes. And he adds that the better the body, the better the results.

“He’s the kind of guy who has to come in and play himself into shape,” Moore commented. Matlock is a stocky 195 pounds and as his skipper noted, has deceptive speed. “He is a good baserunner because he anticipates well, knows when to go.”

Matlock moves furniture and appliances in the offseason to keep in shape, and some time down the road, he would love to get into coaching. Right now, he’s content with his steady gig with Edinburg, plus the added task of leading a family, long-distance. Waiting at the plate will have to pay off with his personal life as well.

He and his wife have an 8-month-old son, Shaun, and though the pair has visited the Valley once in 2010, Matlock notes that it’s a long, long way between here and the green hills of his home state.

“That’s a 16-hour drive and it’s tough to expect them to get that together more than once a year,” said the line-drive specialist. “I miss them a lot, but they’re there and I’m here, for now.”

Matlock also finds himself pondering the absence of former roommate Vincent Blue, traded last week after two seasons with the club.

“Yeah, I do miss him, he was a good team guy,” said Matlock of the lefty-swinging outfielder. “I hope he is able to get a fresh start with his new team and have a good rest of the year.”

As the Roadrunners head toward the stretch run, they will need every base hit and steal they can get. And relying on a consistent run of patient approaches at the plate from their “Ol’ Reliable” will certainly stand them in good stead.