LAS VEGAS — Cubs slugger Kris Bryant stood in the batter’s box Friday, unable to react to the slider that nicked the edge of the plate. He was frozen.
Steven Matz has been looking for such reactions.
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For much of spring training, the Mets lefthander has groused about his need for results. But after the Mets’ final spring training game — an 8-1 thumping of the Cubs to snap a 14-game winless streak — Matz came away pleased.
“Definitely a good way to start the season,” said Matz, who threw 73 pitches in his final dress rehearsal. “[I can] kind of hit the ground running here now.”
Facing a lineup mostly stocked with Cubs regulars, Matz tossed five no-hit innings. His three baserunners reached on a pair of walks and an error. He struck out six, including Bryant to start the game.
Matz even added a hit, dumping a broken-bat single just inside the rightfield line. But his best work came on the mound.
“I was pretty pleased with the way my slider was working,” Matz said. “It’s something I’ve been using, working on, on and off, for the past year or so. I feel like I’m really getting it to where I need it to be.”
Matz ended camp on a strong note. In his last two outings, the Long Island lefty gave up one run and one hit in 9 2⁄3 innings. His six walks in that span were his only blemish.
For the first time in his career, Matz will begin the season in the major leagues, counted upon to carry his load for the duration.
“It’s really exciting, just really exciting that I’m going to be out here with the team again,” he said. “I’m just excited for the season.”
But it may be a while before he’s back on the mound, thanks to the Mets’ odd schedule to begin the year. They are off for three of the first five days of the season.
That means it’s possible for Opening Night starter Matt Harvey to pitch again next Saturday, one day after Jacob deGrom is tentatively scheduled to take the ball in the home opener.
Matz will be available out of the bullpen Tuesday in Kansas City, when Noah Syndergaard makes the start. But if Matz doesn’t appear in relief, he might not pitch again until April 10, which would give him eight days’ rest.
Matz could find it difficult to stay sharp, but he can lean on his experience from last postseason. He allowed three runs in five innings in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers after being sidelined for three weeks with a back ailment.
Matz pitched twice more, in the NLCS and in the World Series. Those games came on seven and nine days’ rest, respectively. He surrendered three runs in 9 2⁄3 innings in those games.
“We’ve done this in the playoffs, we [did it] last year,” Matz said. “You just go out and do your work, throw your bullpen, do what you need to do on the field and in the weight room and the training room and stuff.”
Matz logged 23 2⁄3 innings during spring training, tied with Bartolo Colon for the heaviest workload on the staff. He issued 13 walks and had a 4.94 ERA, but his performances steadily improved.
“It’s going to be there,” Matz said, downplaying what could be a long layoff. “I feel like I’ve thrown enough innings in spring that I am where I need to be.”