Remember when the Mets’ rotation was among the best in baseball? When every series seemed winnable because of the guys on the mound? Steven Matz was right in the thick of it, the homegrown lefty who was as good as anyone not named Jacob deGrom.
The Mets hoped they were getting that Matz — and a part of that rotation — back on Friday night. Instead they got the new Matz, the one whose season has dived and disintegrated, first with a relegation to the bullpen, then to a 19-day stint on the injured list, and finally to Friday’s performance in a 15-2 loss to Atlanta.
The Mets were coming off two comeback victories against the Phillies, but Friday’s game was one they could ill afford to lose, with nine games left in the season and only the slightest shot at the wild card. Furthermore, Friday’s loss made the Mets look ill-suited to a late charge into the postseason, as Luis Rojas left his pitchers to get shelled for 12 runs in four innings and Mets bats went almost completely silent against Atlanta lefthander Max Fried. The only bright spot was Amed Rosario, who went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI.
Jared Hughes, who ate up 3 2/3 innings, gave up two runs to Atlanta in the sixth and another in the eighth. Ozzie Albies hit two home runs and Marcell Ozuna went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Atlanta was set down in order only once, when Todd Frazier tossed a perfect ninth, showcasing what could generously be called 60-mph curveballs.
Matz, returning from a shoulder injury, picked up where he left off, which wasn’t exactly a good thing. He threw 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs, eight hits, three walks, a wild pitch and two lengthy homers. He struck out five.
Franklyn Kilome, who was called up Friday for Luis Guillorme, fared just as poorly, tacking on a six-run fourth. Neither did much to save a heavily taxed bullpen that was coming off two starts of two innings or less from Seth Lugo and deGrom.
"What I was working on didn’t translate to (the game) today," said Matz, who added that he felt good coming into the matchup, and had been working on his sequencing and control. The adrenaline of the start, though, caused him to rush and fly open, he said, moving his fastball up in the zone and erasing its effectiveness.
"It seems like a lot of it just always comes down to executing pitches and just the sharpness wasn’t there and executing pitches wasn’t there," he said. "I gave those guys a chance and they capitalized."
Matz’s ERA climbed to 9.79 in his sixth start this year and seventh appearance. He’s 0-5.
It also raised even more questions about Matz’s future in the rotation this season and next.
"Everything was working before coming into this start," said Rojas, who was impressed with Matz’s work at the alternate site and his bullpen. "Everything the pitching coaches saw from him was good .
The pounding began almost immediately, when Ronald Acuna Jr. doubled to lead off the game, Freddie Freeman singled off the lip of the grass in right and Ozuna drove in Acuna with a broken-bat single. Atlanta would’ve done far more damage if Freeman hadn’t been thrown out at third on Ozuna’s hit, because Matz continued to unravel before squirreling his way out of the inning.
No matter, though, because Atlanta got that back and more in a four-run second, which came together behind a two-run double from Freeman and an absolute laser to left for Ozuna, who, with Freeman on second, teed off on Matz’s 92.7-mph slider for a 445-foot homer that came off the bat at 113.7 mph.
Kilome took over in the third, got a quick last out, and imploded in the fourth behind a two-run homer by Travis d’Arnaud — the catcher the Mets signed to an extension and then cut — Nick Markakis’ two-run double and Albies’ two-run homer.
"It’s a tough loss," Rojas said. "The first inning, they just started attacking Matzy, taking advantage of some pitches that were left up in the zone ... The game got separated really early and we weren’t able to contain it."