If the Mets are to contend for a postseason berth, an effective Steven Matz would certainly help.
Spring training started off terribly for Matz, who gave up 10 runs in 1 2/3 innings over his first two starts. Then he put some solid starts together. Four shutout innings. Two runs in 4 1/3 innings. Then he struck out nine Astros over six innings. And then four more shutout innings. Matz posted a 1.96 ERA over his final four starts in the Grapefruit League.
“I thought he just trusted his stuff more and just attacked hitters,” Mickey Callaway said. “He’s got such good stuff, if he’ll just go out there and throw the ball over the plate as many times as possible, he’s going to have success.”
A large part of Matz being a contributor will depend on his health.
He missed two months of the 2015 season with a lat tear, although he still went 4-0 in six starts. Matz made a career-high 22 starts in 2016, the last being a gem against the Padres in which he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. But that August 14 start was the last of the season due to injury.
Last season was a nightmare as the southpaw went 2-7 with a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts. He was on the Disabled List for the first two months of the season, and underwent season-ending elbow surgery in August. And keep in mind that he’s never thrown as many as 135 innings in a season before.
There is a new manager and pitching coach this year. Perhaps Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland can get Matz, who was one of the best pitchers in the league early in 2016, back on track. The new skipper would like to see the young southpaw pound the strike zone. “If you look at the pitchers that throw the best games every year, they have the highest strike percentages,” Callaway said. “And he has the stuff that he can do the same thing. Scherzer is in attack mode from pitch one.”
It’s the “stuff” that makes the difference. Last season, Matz was getting clobbered. There was the start against the Rockies where he gave up seven runs in one plus inning. Five runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. The last time he pitched in the regular season, he have up six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees.
Callaway believes his staff will have success if they attack the strike zone. Now he’ll see if Matz can carry over his strong spring finish into the regular season.