Steven Matz is rounding back into form at precisely the right time
Early Thursday, Mets manager Terry Collins said he would use this weekend to evaluate the workload and roles for his four young starting pitchers – all of whom will have pitched against the Reds by the time the sun sets on Sunday – for the postseason.
If Thursday evening was any indication, Collins came away pleased with the work of his newest prized arm, Steven Matz.
The line wasn’t real pretty. Matz allowed three runs and ten hits in 5 2/3 innings against the Reds in Cincinnati on Thursday night, although he didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight while throwing 68 of his 93 pitches for strikes.
“His stuff was better tonight than it was his last couple of starts,” the manager explained about Matz. “The arm action on his curveball was much better, much faster. He threw some pretty good sliders.”
Matz’s pitch count rose very quickly over the first couple of innings. He allowed a first inning run thanks to three consecutive singles from Ivan De Jesus, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips. But then he worked a couple of deep counts to Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce and fanned both of them to strand two baserunners.
He struck out three batters in the first, but between those sequences plus the trouble he ran into, Matz needed 25 pitches just to get through the first inning.
Matz needed 19 pitches in the second to work around a leadoff single from Eugenio Suarez, but then things started to click for Matz as he needed just 41 pitches over the next three innings.
“This is definitely the best I’ve felt with commanding the zone and everything,” Matz explained after the game. “I felt really good. Today was the best fastball command I’ve had. And that’s really what I work off of. Everything else is getting there. My curveball is just a tick off, still a little up in the zone. But everything else, I feel like, is pretty on.”
He did have both fantastic command and electricty of his fastball. It seemed to have a little extra movement on Thursday night, which helped him induce nine swings-and-misses on that pitch through 5 2/3 innings. He also did a better job to not telegraph his curveball, something which had been incredibly noticeable from every angle in his most recent starts since coming off the disabled list.
And Collins took notice of Matz’s improved craftmanship as well.
Said Collins, “His stuff was better tonight than it was his last couple of starts. The arm action on his curveball was much better, much faster. He threw some pretty good sliders.”
One thing which was missing from Matz’s program on Thursday was his change-up. He only threw ten of them, making him predominantly a two-pitch pitcher. That could have helped prevent him from putting the Reds away in certain sequences, forcing him to throw more pitches per plate appearance.
Collins would like to see Matz throw his change-up more in the future.
“He’s got an outstanding changeup,” the manager explained. “I’d like to see it thrown a little bit more, because I think it’s a great pitch for him.
In all probability, it seems very likely Matz will be in the playoff rotation next month. Where he is in the rotation will be determined later, and presumably has a lot to do with whether or not the Mets have home field advantage against the Dodgers, and potentially what that means for Noah Syndergaard, who has mostly struggled on the road in his rookie season.
It could be awfully tempting for the Mets to consider Matz for a late-inning role in the bullpen. Sean Gilmartin stands to serve as a middle-inning long man, and it’s unlikely Eric O’Flaherty is even on the playoff roster, leaving the club with no sure (left) hand to get someone like Adrian Gonzalez or perhaps Andre Ethier, Chase Utley or Corey Seager out in a tight spot and late.
Then again, the Mets have been pretty clear about how they perceive Matz. Sandy Alderson has been definitive in his stance that Matz is with the club as a starting pitcher. And Terry Collins has said because of his injury history and inexperience as a reliever, it would be unfair to place that burden on Matz in a playoff situation.
So it would seem Matz’s role will be as a starter, which is tantalizing in it’s own way too.
But as Collins, the coaching staff and the front office begin this evaluation process, it would seem at least Collins was colored impressed as his star left-handed pitcher begins to round back into form.
“I thought he threw the ball very well tonight,” Collins explained. “It looks like he’s getting back in pretty good shape, to where he was when we first saw him. I thought this is the best stuff he’s had since he’s coming off the DL.”
It would seem it’s just in the nick of time for both Matz and the Mets.