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Steven Matz has another quality start but Mets fall to Rays

Could he be trade bait if the team cleans house?

Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz delivers a pitch

Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz delivers a pitch against the Rays during the first inning of a game at Citi Field on Saturday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The chatter has intensified as the days tick down toward the trade deadline, sounding a little bit like a late-night infomercial: Are you in the market for an ace, or maybe a closer? Do you need a middle infielder? The Mets are here for all your postseason-contending needs! (If the price is right, that is.)

But as Steven Matz proved Saturday, at least one alluring chip that hasn’t gotten as much attention could get plenty of interest come July 31. Say, you wouldn’t happen to need a lefty, would you? Maybe one with some newfound confidence and the resolve to survive an off day, pitching-wise, and a couple of tense in-game situations?

Well, then, boy oh boy, do the Mets have the right guy for you. (For the right price, that is.)

Matz cobbled together yet another strong performance in a 3-0 loss to the Rays. In the grand tradition of good buddy Jacob deGrom, he left the mound with a moral victory while in line for a loss.

The Mets had the leadoff man on in seven of the nine innings and got past second base only twice. The bullpen allowed two runs to make a small Rays lead look insurmountable.

Matz matched a season high with 110 pitches in 6 1⁄3 innings, allowing one earned run, five hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Perhaps most impressive, he skirted in and out of trouble and showcased the mental fortitude that at times has been questioned. The Rays were 0-for-13 with men on base against Matz, and in his last 12 starts, opponents are hitting .148 with runners on base. He stranded five runners in scoring position Saturday and his ERA dropped from 3.46 to 3.31.

“In the past, that stuff would snowball on me,” he said. “Now I get in situations throughout the game where I can crumble but I think just realizing what I’ve got to do out there and the task at hand can really help me . . . When you get results from something, you can look at it and say, ‘OK, this is working.’ ”

For a squad that has said that very few players — including deGrom and Noah Syndergaard — are immune to a trade, Matz likely is making teams take note. He’s worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland to create an in-between-pitch routine, and that has helped him avoid the pitfalls of yesteryear, when a walk or a hit batsman or a bloop single could spell disaster. That, along with heightened confidence and an improved changeup, has been the difference.

“What the routine accomplishes is Matz’s ability to let go of what just happened and focus on that in-between pitch routine,” Mickey Callaway said, adding that it could simply include touching the brim of his cap or concentrating on footwork. That allows him to “concentrate on the next pitch so that the baserunners and the walks and the hit batsmen, that doesn’t come into play as much so you see a more composed guy who can execute the next pitch.”

The Rays finally struck in the fifth. With one out and Matt Duffy on third, Wilson Ramos hit a grounder to drawn-in Amed Rosario, who would have had a clear shot at the plate had he not bobbled the ball. The Rays tacked on an insurance run in the eighth on Carlos Gomez’s bloop single off Robert Gsellman. Ramos added an RBI in the ninth with a single off Anthony Swarzak past a skidding Rosario.

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