With a lot riding on his shoulders, the Mets are asking Steven Matz to grow up fast
There is next to no question the Mets have cultivated another special pitching prospect in LHP Steven Matz. He has shown all of the promise which was advertised during his journey through the minor leagues in his first four big league starts.
But that doesn’t mean Matz has been perfect, especially recently when he’s shown a lot of cobwebs in his return from a two month absence on the disabled list.
And on Friday night in Atlanta, Matz was still trying to clean those cobwebs out as he struggled through five innings despite allowing only one earned run for his third big league win.
“It’s not quite where I left off, but there are little spurts where I’m feeling really good on the mound,” Matz explained after his start. “I’m happy with where my stamina is at. It’s just commanding all of the pitches and stuff like that. It’s not where I left off. But it’s definitely getting there.”
Matz did struggle with his command. He certainly wasn’t helped by a wildly inconsistent strike zone by home plate umpire Todd Tichenor, but he struggled with the location of his fastball and curveball for most of the night.
But as he said there were some real positive signs with his start.
His fastball had a lot of late life on it, and the Braves clearly struggled to see it and it’s late movement at times. He got a lot of weak swings and insignificant contact when he made his pitches, inducing ten groundouts to help him work out of some very tough jams.
But he clearly still has work to do to get the sharpness he had in his two starts before landing on the disabled list.
“We are trying to get him back in shape a little bit,” manager Terry Collins said on Friday night. “His command wasn’t like we’ve seen it, but it’s his second start since coming back.”
Matz suffered a blister on his finger on his left hand in his last start against the Marlins, something he said was common for him when he throws in humid conditions.
Another problem Matz had was he was slowing his arm down when throwing his change-up and curveball at times on Friday, and not repeating his fastball delivery when throwing those pitches. He got away with that against a subpar Atlanta offense, but that won’t play against a more seasoned and polished lineup.
Matz knows he’s not where he needs to be overall, but his manager is encouraged none the less.
“I think it’s going to get better and better,” Collins explained. “There’s no celing – this guy has the chance to be really good.”
Yes he does, but he’s going to be asked to be really good in a hurry and grow up faster than most players do under the game’s brightest spotlight.
Barring anything unforseen, Matz seems destined for a spot in the club’s playoff rotation if not in the first round, certainly the second round.
That could become even more certain depending on Matt Harvey’s availability in the playoffs.
So there’s a lot on Matz’s shoulders at a very early stage of his career. It’s not often a kid with such a limited resume is asked to pitch critical games down the stretch, not to mention franchise-defining games in the postseason.
But if there’s anything Matz has shown in his brief showing is that he doesn’t waver in the light of adversity. His demeanor never changes while on the mound, and he’s shown he can quickly identify what’s working and what isn’t and adjust off of his in-game weaknesses to remain effective.
Such was the case on Friday night when he was battling his own command problems but continued to utilize all of his pitches and at least keep the ball down in the zone throughout his entire outing.
If the Mets didn’t think Matz was up to such a challenge, they’d probably already be considering other alternatives to him now.
He’s shown how well his stuff can play – it’s just a matter of getting him sharper and crisper.
And the Mets are hoping it comes sooner rather than later.