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Steven Matz throws three perfect innings in bid to become Mets' No. 5 starter

Mets pitcher Steven Matz throws during the first

Mets pitcher Steven Matz throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — If the Yankees were watching Steven Matz on Saturday, they had to be really impressed. He’ll fit in nicely into their rotation after the trade.

(Just kidding. The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Matz to the Yankees or anyone else this spring.)

Matz threw three perfect innings with three strikeouts against the Nationals in a 5-0 Mets loss at Clover Park. The Long Island lefthander was mentioned as a trade target of the Yankees one day last week, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman shot that down the next day.

So let’s assume Matz is going to start the season with the Mets. Will he start it in the rotation? That’s the real question as Matz is in a pitched battle with Michael Wacha for the No. 5 spot.

The Mets haven’t given anyone roles yet — manager Luis Rojas won’t even confirm Jacob deGrom as the Opening Day starter — but the Mets have six veteran starters who are all pitching lights-out in spring training.

Matz’s ERA is 1.50. DeGrom hasn’t allowed a run yet. Wacha’s ERA is 1.17. No. 4 starter Rick Porcello’s is 1.50. Marcus Stroman’s ERA is 2.70 and Noah Syndergaard’s is 3.60.

Overall, Mets starters have a 1.73 ERA in 16 games.

“They’re all throwing so well,” Rojas said. “All the starters.”

About the fifth starter, Rojas said: “Still too early to go one way or the other.”

Matz faced a lineup that included Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Starlin Castro and Ryan Zimmerman. He struck out Robles looking with a hellacious curve for the second out in the first and then got Castro to swing through another curve to end the inning. Yan Gomes, another regular, struck out to end the second.

“I felt really good, especially with my off-speed [stuff] so early in spring,” Matz said. “Curveball, especially. That’s something that normally will come at the end and I feel really comfortable with it. So I’m happy.”

Matz, who threw 38 pitches in his third outing, threw another 15 in the bullpen. Matz’s start was pushed back after he was felled earlier in the week with a flu-like bug that is going through the Mets clubhouse (Jeff McNeil returned to camp Saturday after being sent away on Friday).

Wacha started Friday night against the Astros at West Palm Beach and gave up his first run of spring training with two outs in the third inning. The 28-year-old former Cardinals hurler was 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA for St. Louis last season. He signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Mets that includes multiple incentives, including some for relief appearances.

Both Matz and Wacha see themselves as starters and want the No. 5 job.

Porcello, a former AL Cy Young Award winner, pooh-poohed a suggestion after his last start a few days ago that he was pitching for a rotation spot. The available evidence suggests he is correct and that the battle is between Matz and Wacha.

Wacha was once a No. 1 starter in St. Louis. The Mets got him for a bargain price because of injuries and ineffectiveness over the last few years.

“Over the years, I feel like my mechanics have just gotten just a little bit out of whack over repetitions,” he said. “It’s hard to repeat your delivery that many times in a row. I did some video work this offseason just to get back to where I needed to be. Made a few tweaks. Those changes, I feel like they’ve been a success so far. I feel like the ball has been coming out really nice. The arm and body have been feeling great.”

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