With unfairly high expectations, Steven Matz appears capable of meeting, or exceeding them
It had been two months since Steven Matz toed the rubber in a meaningful game, but on Sunday, the promising left-hander returned against the Marlins and showed all of the promise he had left behind while on the disabled list.
Matz allowed only two runs on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings on Sunday afternoon in Miami, and was positioned for a win until the Mets lost their grip on the game with two outs in the eighth inning.
“I felt good,” Matz said. “I was falling behind hitters a lot and made it difficult on myself and made a few mistakes, which ultimately cost us the game. I’ll try to build off it.”
In fairness, his performance didn’t cost the club the game. Sure, he was a little erratic, especially early with his fastball command, but he was clearly aware of his command problems and effectively went to his breaking ball, which more or less stifled the Marlins throughout his outing.
His curveball was particularly wicked, inducing three swings-and-misses on the five strikes he threw with that pitch.
And once he was able to corral his fastball, it was smooth sailing for Matz outside of the solo home run he allowed to Jeff Mathis in the fifth inning.
But his outing was cut short on Sunday thanks to what he believes is a minor blister on his finger which might have been caused by the humidity inside Marlins Park.
“I think we caught it before it got too bad,” Matz explained. “I used to get it a lot in 2013 when I pitched in Savannah and it was really humid. I guess the skin just softens up when it gets humid.”
Matz doesn’t believe the blister will cause him to miss his next start.
“It should be good to go,” Matz said. “I think it was the right move. I could have kept on pitching with it, but I think Terry made the right call and shut it down. If it gets worse, that’s when there’s trouble.”
Indeed it was, as the Mets need to preserve Matz as they intend to implement a six-man rotation immediately.
There’s a lot of pressure on Matz down the stretch of the season, which is hardly fair for him.
He has three big league starts under his belt separated by a two month stint on the disabled list. But he’s going to be part of a six-man rotation tasked with getting this club back into the playoffs for the first time in nine years. He’s going to be asked to pitch at a high level with no margin for error and no allowance for a learning curve.
Again, that’s not fair for a young starter. But life’s tough in a pennant race in a big city.
This is what it’s all about anyway.
But if his start on Sunday and his first two starts in early July are any indication, Matz is up to the challenge of successfully navigating this instant test. He’s poised and focused, and doesn’t let any of the external noise reach him.
But still, it’s a high stakes gamble to place such high hopes on such a young pitcher.
And only time will determine if the gamble pays off. But he appears capable of meeting, and potentially exceeding these unfair expectations.