Steven Matz of Stony Brook smiles as he signs autographs...

Steven Matz of Stony Brook smiles as he signs autographs for fans after batting practice. (Aug. 19, 2009) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

ATLANTA - What began as left elbow discomfort during Instructional League resulted in Tommy John surgery Tuesday for Steven Matz, the Mets' top pick in last year's draft.

Matz, 18, had the ligament replacement procedure at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and the Mets are hopeful he can be ready close to the start of next season. His father, Ron, said the surgery was successful and the doctors told him the elbow repair looked great.

"A lot of guys have this and the success rate of coming back from it is very good," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "So he'll miss a year and we know he'll be back."

Matz, a Ward Melville graduate from East Setauket, was the 72nd overall pick and the Mets had anticipated him starting this year at one of their short-season Class A affiliates. The team cut back his workload during the winter, which is not unusual for young pitchers, but the slower pace apparently did not resolve his elbow issues.

Matz felt pain in his left elbow during an extended spring game last week in Port St. Lucie and was sent back to New York for more tests and an MRI, which revealed an 80-percent tear in the ligament.

"I know so many guys that have gone through the surgery," Matz said. "It's very disappointing. I was preparing for the season and very excited about it, but this is an unexpected delay."

Matz pitched in the Instructional League last year at the Mets' baseball academy in the Dominican Republic before returning home to Long Island, where he spent most of the offseason working out at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City. At 6-4, 195 pounds, with a fastball in the mid-90s, the Mets wanted to proceed slowly with Matz, and he talked about that cautious approach back in March when he first arrived in Port St. Lucie.

"They're telling me they don't want me to go out and try to blow it up," Matz said. "They don't want me to throw out my arm. They want me to take it nice and slow."

Only now Matz will have to take it slower than anyone had envisioned, with an eye toward a 2011 return.

With MSG Varsity's Gregg Sarra.

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