Under the bright spotlight, Steven Matz passed an important test on Friday
Steven Matz said before he took the mound on Friday he remembers many instances when he and his family would watch the Mets and Yankees clash in the Subway Series on TV.
But he had never attended a Mets/Yankees game in person.
That changed for him on Friday night, but the difference was he wasn’t a spectator like the rest of his family was.
Instead, Matz was tasked with making his fifth big league start against the team he would normally root against with his family in past years, and beating them at that.
His outing probably didn’t start out like he had envisioned it would, however.
Matz was very erratic early, as he lacked command of all of his pitches and was consistently up in the strike zone with his fastball in particular. He was admittedly amped up for this start, and it was evident when he opened the game with his fastball consistently in the upper-90s.
“You can tell he was a little amped up,” David Wright said after the game. “He was throwing a little harder than normal that first inning. He was a little wild.”
He allowed a first inning run to the Yankees, and needed 23 pitches to get the first three outs of the game thanks in part to a leadoff walk to Brett Gardner, a single to Carlos Beltran and a sacrifice fly from Chris Young. He then had to workaround more trouble after Greg Bird singled, but Matz induced an inning-ending roundball to John Ryan Murphy to end the Yankee threat.
It didn’t get much easier for Matz in the second and third innings, as he needed another 40 pitches to work around trouble then as well, but fortunately he did not allow any more runs to come across.
But he seemed to be more at ease from that point forward. His fastball came down in the zone, it was more difficult to read his curveball and change-up.
“I settled down a little bit there, especially after the third. I felt more comfortable out there. So, definitely, I felt like I got stronger as the game went on,” Matz explained.
Matz also seemed to incorporate a second breaking ball after the third inning – a slider – to help keep the Yankees guessing.
“I was working on it with Dan a little bit in the bullpen sessions,” Matz explained about his slider. “I told Trav before the game, ‘If we get ahead of a hitter, just kind of show them it.’ And it turned out to be working pretty well for me today.
All of it seemed to click for Matz at that point in the game. He retired nine in a row from the bottom of the second to the top of the fifth when Chase Headley singled to left. He then allowed two soft singles in the sixth inning to end his night. He was able to throw better quality strikes down in the zone and also had better life on his curveball down in the zone as well.
Despite the rocky road, he hung in long enough for the offense to give him a lead and get him his fourth win of his career.
“Sometimes I try to get a little too fine with my pitches,” Matz explained. “[Travis d’Arnaud] kind of talked to me about that, and [Dan Warthen]. They just told me to let it go and trust what I’ve got.”
Matt became the first pitcher in club history to allow two or fewer runs in each of his first five career starts, and joined Jason Jacome as the only two pitchers to win four of his first five starts.
This was Matz’s first test under the bright spotlight, and for the most part he got through it just fine. He was clearly dealing with nerves and butterflies early – it was clear on his face and his body language as he was taking deep breaths, closing his eyes, and doing anything to try and contain himself.
It’s only natural – he’s a young kid, he lacks experience, and it’s the Yankees in a game of great import to both clubs.
In a way, this was good for him, as the stakes will be even higher beginning in less than three weeks when he’s very likely to be starting for the Mets in their first playoff series in nine years.
And the more he learns now, the better off he will be under a spotlight even brighter than Friday night’s lights.