David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ATLANTA - Despite being in the prediction business, we don't have a crystal ball for what lies ahead for Steven Matz. Our best guess is a spot in the playoff rotation, barring any obstacles between now and October, with the Mets leaning in that direction.
It's important to note, however, that we're not there yet. And Friday night's start against the Braves indicated that Matz definitely needs more fine-tuning after missing nearly two months with a partially torn lat muscle.
While that wasn't totally unexpected, try telling that to Matz, who got visibly frustrated with himself a few times during a five-inning stint in the Mets' 5-1 win at Turner Field.
"He's a perfectionist," Terry Collins said. "He'll be all right. He's going to be fine."
The good news? Matz has the rest of September to rediscover the mojo he temporarily lost by landing on the disabled list.
Friday was only the fourth major-league start for Matz, 24, who struggled with his fastball location as well as the command of his breaking pitches, especially his signature curve.
Matz is just not as laser-sharp as he was when he first arrived from Las Vegas on June 28.
"It's like coming out of spring training," Matz said. "And for me, it's all about logging innings and feeling comfortable out there. The more innings I get, the deeper I go into games, everything will start to click."
Coming in, Matz had been the only Met to strike out at least six in his first three career starts, but he whiffed only two Friday with a pair of walks. He allowed six hits, including a home run by Daniel Castro, who clobbered a high 94-mph fastball.
Collins said Matz has to be better about leaving the strike zone when necessary, to waste pitches and set up others. In missing those two months, Matz is a little bit behind. But with the Mets running away with the NL East, he also has the luxury of catching up.
"It will come," Matz said. "It's not quite where I left off. But there's little spurts where I'm feeling good."
To get a better idea of what the rest of this month might be like for Matz, we consulted a Hall of Famer who was in a similar spot at a similar age.
In 1991, the Braves were a worst-to-first team that hadn't been to the playoffs in the previous eight years -- just like the 2015 Mets -- before Tom Glavine, then 25, helped get them there with a 20-win Cy Young season.
As great as Glavine was in '91, the September grind got to him that year, and his 4.22 ERA in the last seven starts was more than double that of any previous month. But Glavine endured 2462/3 innings that season, a herculean chore that is nothing like the modest 1291/3 Matz has split between the Mets and three minor-league stops. To Glavine, that's obviously a plus as Matz heads down the stretch despite the development he missed while on the DL.
"I think one of the things that will help him is, his stuff is a heck of a lot better than mine probably was," Glavine said. "Stuff's only going to get you so far. But he's in a good situation here in that he's going to get an opportunity to pitch in meaningful games and get a taste of that postseason atmosphere."
Even then, the playoffs are going to be the great unknown for Matz and the rest of the mostly twenty-something Mets rotation. Glavine remembered feeling a little overwhelmed at first.
"We hadn't sniffed anything close to the postseason," said Glavine, now a TV analyst for the Braves. "And then, all of a sudden, here you are, in the middle of that magical year, and you don't know if you're ever going to get that chance again. It's a big deal.
"Your mind-set is almost like when you got called up to the big leagues. Now you think I've got to be really good, and really perfect, and you start putting pressure on yourself."
For Matz, that never goes away.