Considering Steven Matz's perfect record, his batting prowess and the overwhelmingly positive energy he has brought to the ascendant Mets, it can be said that his young career has a too-good-to-be-true quality. In any case, the early benign prognosis on his back stiffness clearly was too good to be true.
Matz was at a doctor Friday afternoon while the rest of the team was at Citi Field, learning that Friday night's game against the Nationals had been rained out and scheduled as part of a doubleheader Saturday. Terry Collins acknowledged that Matz's back is not better and that there is little chance the phenom from Ward Melville will pitch this weekend.
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That could jeopardize his planned start during the National League Division Series against the Dodgers and might keep him off the playoff roster.
All told, Matz's situation is one big leaden cloud hovering over the Mets' brightest days in nine years. At the very least, it keeps the club from resting easy after having described Matz's situation last week as a mild, temporary condition caused by sleeping in an awkward position.
"I think the concern level has certainly gone up," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "It hasn't seemed to get better. I probably downplayed it a little too much at the outset, based on hope rather than information, but the fact that it hasn't responded particularly well is concerning. But that doesn't mean that it won't respond quickly over the next few days. These things are hard to predict."
If Matz feels better, he will pitch in an Instructional League game early in the week. If that goes well, he still could start a game against the Dodgers or at least make the NLDS roster as a reliever, with Bartolo Colon getting the fourth spot in the rotation.
Matz represents something of an ace up the Mets' sleeve, a late-season addition who has provided surprising helpings of spark and hope. He is 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a .286 batting average. He has not always been flawless, but he showed in a victory over the Yankees that he can handle heat. The Mets have won five of the six games he has started.
The club was eager to get Matz some work in a big-league game this weekend, especially because he has not pitched since Sept. 24.
"Right now, I don't see how he's going to be ready to pitch this weekend," Collins said before the announcement of a split doubleheader at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday. "That can change. They may do something [at the doctor], he may come in here tomorrow and say hey, I'm ready to go, and Sunday we can get him some innings."
An Instructional League outing is not perfect -- "It's going to be at noon, there's going to be six people there, it's going to be hot," Collins said -- but it is better than nothing.
In a way, it would be going full cycle for Matz, who -- months after being drafted in 2009 -- experienced elbow soreness in an Instructional League game, which ultimately led to Tommy John surgery.
He overcame that, and Alderson is optimistic that the team will overcome this latest episode. A club that had been out of the postseason since 2006 is focused more on joy than crisis.
"We've dealt with uncertainty," Alderson said. "We've dealt with unexpected turns. We've lost players. And one of the things I appreciate about this team is that that has not deterred us . . . We're going to do the best with what we have and we're excited about the opportunity."