(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Steven Matz is a name that went into baseball history Sunday at Citi Field and for the New York Mets, perhaps for the moment a final piece of their young pitching staff that moves them forward. He could be the premiere arm surrounding Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zach Wheeler who returns next year from Tommy John Surgery,
Why is Matz the premiere pitcher over the other sought after arms in a rotation that is keeping the Mets afloat in the NL East? The 24-year old left hander throws hard and has great control, and that showed with 7.2 innings and two runs allowed. The two runs were off home run balls, and after allowing the leadoff shot to the Reds’ Brandon Phillips, he showed the composure of a veteran and not a rookie in his first start.
And it showed that Matz can be a premiere hitter. It started with a well needed two-run double that opened a 2-0 led for the Mets in the second inning, and Matz, who came with the pitching credentials got a hit the Mets have been looking for the past few weeks.
Except the hit was not a surprise to his catcher, Johnny Monell, or to deGrom, because they saw Matz hit the ball in the Pacific Coast League as teammates with the Mets Triple-A Las Vegas team. What was not expected was two more hits, and four runs batted in that helped make this Major League debut one for the record books.
“That was a hit we needed, the entire team,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. Matz became the first pitcher since 1920 to have three hits and four RBI in a debut. A hit the Mets needed because his lineup could only score seven runs in four previous games, including two in the earlier suspended game that was played prior to the game that saw Matz have an auspicious debut.
But for Matz, who has also recovered from Tommy John Surgery, hitting has always gone along with his pitching. And with the Mets struggling to get hits and score runs, Collins may want to call Matz to come off the bench and provide a spark to the offense.
The two-run double went over the head of center fielder Billy Hamilton. He got a two-run single in the sixth with the bases loaded, and had a single that started a rally that eventually broke a tie in the fifth, It was a historic afternoon, and his heroics at the plate may have took away the spotlight of his debut on the mound, the Mets 7-2 win and three-game sweep over the Cincinnati Reds.
“I don’t like being an easy out as a pitcher,” said Matz.
The Mets in their dugout erupted each time he took a swing and ran the bases. And with their offense struggling, with exception of Curtis Granderson who went 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to eight games, so perhaps they were looking for some pointers from a pitcher who has a facial resemblance to Joe DiMaggio, another New York ballplayer who had many good days at the plate.
Collins knows what he has now. The nucleus of a pitching staff that is now on a six-man rotation with Jonathon Niese and Bartolo Colon in the mix. The pithing will keep his team in games because the offense, unless a bat comes via a trade, shows no signs of being a potent threat.
And with Matz, the much anticipated debut went to plan. Except, Collins did not expect the production coming from his bat and that was a pleasant reprieve with the minimal amount of runs his team has been producing in the month of June, 15-runs in their last ten games.
Said Collins, “He was ready for this. All the things we heard from the guys in Triple-A, it was time. And today he showed it.”
Then there was that wait for Matz to take the mound. He arrived at the ballpark early in the morning and a 13- inning conclusion to a suspended game did not make a difference. Matz spent his time stretching and almost four hours later from his intended first pitch, he threw the ball past the glove of Monell, a 96-mile fastball to Phillips.
“What do you expect, “ Monell said, “He’s a New Yorker,” referring to the composure that Matz displayed after the pitch and home run. Matz had over 130 family and friends that could be heard when the fastball and curve hit their spots and when he got on base.
Monell, who had a career high two-hits caught a bulk of games with Matz in the PCL. “He does what he does, attacks the strike zone, gets the guys out. He settled down. You saw what Matt did in the PCL. He throws breaking balls for strikes, the sinker. Inside to lefties and righties and a lot better than it was in Vegas, and he’s working on the two-seamer.
Monell added, “This kid is special. He is a super athlete. In the clubhouse he was casual, excited, and itching to get out there and it showed.”
And it was another special day for the Mets to showcase what they have for the future. Matz has arrived and there is every reason to believe his pitching will be the highlight, and the hits will come when they do. There is also something special about Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Wheeler when he returns.
Then there is that next start for Matz, and that has to wait with this rotation as it is. But for now the wait is over because “Mr. Matz” has arrived.