Steven Matz’s velocity is rising, but he’s struggling with command during rehab
Steven Matz has not pitched since July 6 in Los Angeles. It was only his second big league game, but it was after that masterful performance Terry Collins revealed his left-handed pitching prodigy had suffered through some discomfort after his first start against the Reds.
So after undergoing an MRI exam a few days later in New York, Matz was shutdown and placed on the disabled list with what was described as a partial tear of the lat muscle in his left side.
He remained idle for the better part of a month to allow the muscle to heal, rehabbing the injury at the team’s minor league complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
It wasn’t until last Saturday when Matz made his first rehab start with Single-A St. Lucie. He threw just 25 pitches in one inning and allowed a run on three hits with two strikeouts.
Fast forward five days, Matz increased his workload by the expected amount of 15-20 pitches in his next start. He threw 41 pitches, 25 of which were strikes and, according to Paul Ivice of Newsday, he hit 94 mph with his fastball in his start against Palm Beach in Jupiter, Florida on Thursday night.
“I was just trying to fill up the strike zone and stretch out the 40-plus pitches as much as I could,” Matz told Ivice.
Matz still has quite a ways to go before he feels he’s ready. He first needs to build his pitch count, but he also needs to improve his command, something he is not satisfied with to this point in his rehab.
“I felt more command than I had last outing,” Matz explained to Ivice. “It’s still not where I want it to be.”
The results on Thursday suggested he is still shaking off the rust from his six-week absence. He allowed a run on four hits with a walk in 2 2/3 innings on Thursday night.
“I was just leaving the ball up,” the left-hander said. “I’ll keep on plugging and get my work in.”
If Matz continues to pitch every five days and he suffers no setbacks, he will be tasked with 50-60 pitches in his next start on Tuesday – which could come with Double-A Binghamton – and then an attempt 75-90 pitches next Sunday, August 30. If all goes well, he could be activated for a start against the Marlins Labor Day weekend, although Jon Heyman of CBS Sports says Matz could be activated a little bit earlier than that on September 2.
The Mets have been very clear about how they view Matz, and that is strictly as a starting pitcher. So for now, there’s no reason to expect he will be activated in an effort to shore up their bullpen. He will instead be used as part of a six-man rotation in September.
As for the postseason, there’s no evidence to suggest the club’s mindset will change as far as Matz’s role is concerned. But, they only need four starters in any playoff series, which means the decision would likely come down to either Matz or Jon Niese for the fourth starter job. It’s hard to see the Mets shifting Niese to the bullpen for a playoff series considering he has never pitched in relief. But nor has Matz for that matter.
Having said that, if Matz is going to be on a playoff roster (and if he’s healthy, there’s no reason to expect he won’t be unless he doesn’t pitch well down the stretch), it’s conceivable he will serve in some kind of relief role at that time.
Of course, this will only be a problem if they get there. But it’s a good problem regardless of what they choose.