PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Steven Matz was as good as the Mets hoped he’d be last season after his June 28 debut at Citi Field. With one small asterisk, however.
Matz made two impressive starts but missed the next two months with a torn lat muscle. Not long after his return, and with the Mets planning for the playoffs, Matz again was sidelined with a freakish back injury that the team said stemmed from a poor sleeping position.
As a result, as spring training begins, Matz has two goals for his sophomore season. First, repeat his performance from a year ago, when the Ward Melville product was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts. And second, perhaps convince the skeptics that he’s not injury-prone, as some have suggested.
“They can say what they want to say,” Matz said Friday after the Mets held their first official workout for pitchers and catchers. “There’s nothing I can do. I work as hard as I can to stay healthy, to be the best pitcher I can be. That’s all I can do. Injuries are going to happen, and that’s out of my control.”
Fortunately, none of Matz’s problems involved his throwing arm. His career already had been delayed by Tommy John surgery in 2010, the year after the Mets drafted him in the second round. As long as his arm is sound, Matz isn’t concerned.
In preparing for the Grapefruit League schedule, however, he is trying to take a more low-key approach into his exhibition starts. He and Noah Syndergaard were spring training sensations a year ago, and now Matz hopes not to be so amped up this time around.
“Yeah, but at the same time, when a hitter steps in that box, it’s tough for me personally to be like, OK, it’s just spring training, take it easy,” Matz said. “But I’m going to do my best to just tone it down and just worry about making pitches.
“It’s a competitive thing. You don’t want to get up there and lay meatballs in there for guys to smack it. You get your work in, but it’s about controlling that adrenaline.”
It helps that Matz is part of a stellar rotation, the No. 4 starter in a group that many believe is the best in the sport. Matz, who will turn 25 in May, has other ace-type pals to lean on as well as help make him better.
“I think there’s no ceiling,” Matz said of the Mets’ rotation. “I know for me, I build off those guys. I watch [Matt] Harvey, Noah, Jake [deGrom]. I watch them go out and pitch and see the way they compete. That’s what I want to do when I go after them.”