LAS VEGAS - Steven Matz gave a major league-ready answer when asked if he has read the stories touting his inevitable 2015 Mets debut. The Stony Brook native and Ward Melville High School graduate said he does his best to not pay attention to the speculation and that his focus is always on his next start for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s.
"If you start looking down the line, it can snowball down here really quick," Matz said after Sunday's 5-2 win over the Reno Aces at Cashman Field. "I just try to focus on my everyday work. There's a lot of work that has to be done down here in my mind, so that's really what I try to keep as my main focus."
His focus appears as sharp as his 4-1 record, 2.04 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 351/3 innings would indicate.
Matz, 23, was not viewed as a sure thing after being drafted by the Mets in the second round (72nd overall) of the 2009 MLB amateur draft. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, but persistent soreness delayed his pro debut until 2012 with rookie league Kingsport (Tenn.).
The health concerns have faded as Matz has dominated at every level of the minor leagues. Last year with Double-A Binghamton, he saved his signature performance for the Eastern League championship clincher against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, going 71/3 innings before allowing a hit.
"At this point, it's all behind me," Matz said. "I would say more in 2013, my first full season back, it was more like that. At this point, I'm healthy, I know I'm ready to go, and I know what I have to do to get back out there every fifth day."
In 2013 with the Class-A Savannah Sand Gnats, Matz's pitching coach was Frank Viola, who is currently the pitching coach on manager Wally Backman's staff in Las Vegas. The similarities between the two are evident. Viola is a lefty from Long Island (East Meadow), and like Matz, he had Tommy John surgery, albeit late in an MLB career that featured 176 victories and a Cy Young Award with the Minnesota Twins in 1988.
Viola said Matz has made significant strides since their time in Savannah. It was during that season that the two worked to develop a curveball to complement Matz's fastball and changeup. Now, the once-erratic curveball has developed into an out pitch.
"He's got three plus-pitches," Viola said. "The only thing that we need to do right now is get some more innings under his belt, let him continue learning, and once he gets called up, we're not going to ever see him again in the minor leagues."
For now, Matz is still a minor leaguer, which means short plane rides to places like El Paso, Albuquerque and Tacoma. His parents, Lori and Ron, are planning a visit to Las Vegas this month, provided their son is still there.
Meanwhile, Viola cannot stop raving about his protege, calling his left arm a "gift from God." It's a gift Mets fans can't wait to unwrap.
Said Viola: "If called upon, there's no question in my mind that not only will he be able to handle it, he'll just make everybody go, 'Wow, we have something special here.' "
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