ST. LOUIS — Up next through the revolving door of Mets starting pitchers with increasingly tenuous holds on their jobs: Steven Matz.
Matz’s night was a mess in the Mets’ 9-1 loss to the Cardinals Wednesday night. He lasted only 3 1⁄3 innings and allowed seven runs (three earned). His outing ended with a bases-loaded walk to Dexter Fowler.
Matz has a 4.98 ERA and is averaging 4 1⁄3 innings per start in five this year.
“You see two different pitchers,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “The first two innings, that’s the best I’ve ever seen him throw in person. One little throw to first [a throwing error by Matz] kind of unraveled things and he couldn’t get it back. We’re going to continue to work and put him in positions, whatever it takes, to try to combat that and make sure we help him the best we can.
“We’ll put him in whatever position we need to and talk to him and help him out in that regard.”
Asked if Matz will definitely make his next start, Callaway didn’t give an outright “yes.”
“Everybody makes their start until we tell them they’re not,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to make any rash decisions off of one game or one throw to first. It’s something we need to help Matzy with if he’s going to be an effective starter.”
The throw to first in question occurred in the Cardinals’ haphazard rally in the third. Cardinals righthander Michael Wacha (six innings, one run) put down a sacrifice bunt, but Matz threw it wide of first, helping St. Louis load the bases. Fowler drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Marcell Ozuna singled home two more.
The fourth was similar Paul DeJong had a leadoff double. Then another infield single, another sacrifice bunt with another error (missed catch, Jose Lobaton), a hit batsman and then the Fowler walk. That did it for Matz.
“The game sped up on me out there,” Matz said. “I felt I had a good tempo going early on, and once guys got on I felt like the game sped up on me. That’s the best way I can put it.”
A kinder reading of Matz’s pitching line would highlight the several soft hits and defensive mishaps, including three errors. Alternatively, Matz was fortunate to avoid early issues when three hard-hit balls turned into outs, and he did himself no favors by losing the strike zone and walking two.
Matz has walked a career-high 10.5 percent of batters, a considerable increase from his 6.4-percent walk rate during his rough 2017. He has not pitched more than 5 1⁄3 innings in any of his starts and leads the team in home runs allowed with five.
Callaway painted Matz’s issue as a psychological one, not being the same pitcher once runners reach base.
“It’s a mentality of letting go of what just happened,” Callaway said. “We can’t let one throw unravel things to where we’re all of a sudden not competing.”
Corey Oswalt pitched 4 2⁄3 innings in his major-league debut, entering in relief of Matz in the fourth. After allowing a couple of inherited runners to score that inning, then two of his own in the fifth (Jedd Gyorko’s two-run home run), Oswalt retired 12 of his final 13 batters, finishing the game.
Oswalt struck out four and walked none. He recorded four more outs than Matz did and saved the Mets from having to use another reliever.
“He was fearless,” Callaway said. “It’s the things we talk about that lead to success. . . . He did a pretty good job of attacking, was efficient with his pitches and making them hit the ball.”
Said Oswalt: “It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life.”