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Steven Matz strikes out nine in six innings as Mets bats back him up in big way

Steven Matz delivers in the first inning

Steven Matz delivers in the first inning of Mets' 12-6 win over the Pirates. Photo Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

PITTSBURGH — Ninety-eight pitches into his night, Steven Matz sprinted to the mound for the bottom of the sixth, the only Met on the field for several seconds as if to leave no doubt that yes, this inning would be his. Catcher Devin Mesoraco eventually joined him, as did the defense behind him, and Matz followed with his quickest frame of the game: three batters, eight pitches, three outs.

It was far from a perfect night for Matz in the Mets’ 12-6 win over the Pirates on Thursday, but Asdrubal Cabrera (3-for-5, three extra-base hits, four RBIs) and the rest of the offense backed him up plenty. The Mets (43-57) have won three in a row for the first time in more than five weeks.

Despite a high pitch count throughout — including 72 pitches through three innings and 87 after four — Matz managed to get through six frames and strike out nine, tying his career high. He allowed four runs, three hits and two walks.

David Freese burned him for a two-run home run in the first and Josh Harrison hit a two-run shot in the third. In between and after, Matz was hardly hittable, retiring his final 10 batters.

“I definitely felt like I settled in,” said Matz, noting that he was sluggish while warming up before the game. “It was almost like I got a little tired and I was able to stay smooth instead of muscle up a little bit. And that works for me. It helped me out for sure.”

Said manager Mickey Callaway: “He really battled. He didn’t feel his best, even before the game after his warmups. But he went out there and battled.”

Amid questions about his rotation-mates and their Mets futures, Matz (5-8) has emerged as a consistent presence in the starting five, posting a 3.79 ERA and 1.26 WHIP while remaining healthy, a rarity for him in recent years.

As far as Callaway is concerned, this version of Matz is close to the one he envisioned when he took the Mets’ job. “We feel like he can be one of the better lefthanders in the league,” Callaway said.

But he insisted that Matz isn’t a finished product because no pitcher is — especially the best.

“That’s what the elite feed off of. They want to always get better,” Callaway said. “Matzy is definitely one of those types. He’s never going to be satisfied. Maybe if he throws a perfect game, he will be for the day. And then he’ll get back after it. That’s a real good quality to have.”

Opposite Matz, Pittsburgh righthander Nick Kingham presented no issues for the Mets. He recorded nine outs and allowed six runs. Then the Pirates’ bullpen allowed six runs in six innings.

Every Mets position player in the starting lineup reached base by the top of the fourth. Matz twice blew two-run leads, but the lineup opened it up late. Jeff McNeil, in his first major-league start, reached base four times. Wilmer Flores (homer, three RBIs), Amed Rosario (two runs) and Jose Bautista each had two hits. But nobody had a bigger night at the plate than Cabrera, who is a prime trade candidate ahead of Tuesday’s non-waiver deadline.

“This is my team right now. I’m not thinking too much about it,” he said. “I just come here to do my job. This is my team. Whatever happens, I can’t control that.”

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