Steven Matz’s stay in the bullpen was brief, and it was a hardly a relegation. Because time off around the All-Star break didn’t call for the Mets to use a fifth starting pitcher, he was cast off into the bullpen only to return to the rotation after the break.
And what a sweet return it has been.
Matz tossed another 6 1/3 strong innings Tuesday night, holding the Indians to two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks in the Mets' 9-2 win. He struck out seven, six of which were looking.
Since the All-Star break, he owns a 2.81 ERA over 41 2/3 innings. He’s recorded a quality start in five of his last six outings.
“Me and Wilson [Ramos] just had a good game plan going in,” said Matz, who is 6-0 with a 2.07 ERA at Citi Field this season. “We were just keeping them off the fastball, you know, cutting them in, changeups away, fastballs in. We just had a good mix going and it was effective.”
Jason Kipnis’ solo home run to rightfield in the top of the second inning was the only blip during Matz’ first three innings. He then ran into some trouble in the fourth before limiting the damage.
Yasiel Puig led off by reaching on Todd Frazier’s error. Jose Ramirez and Kipnis followed with consecutive singles, with the latter driving in Puig from second base. Matz forced Roberto Perez to fly out to leftfield before Greg Allen grounded into a fielder’s choice and Shane Bieber struck out looking, ending the threat with the score tied at 2.
“It says that he’s got a lot of movement,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of Matz’s called strikeouts. “That kind of shows me that he’s really able to start that ball off the plate and bring it back on. And great usage of his pitches. He’s setting up the next pitch.”
He struck out Perez to start the top of the seventh but followed by allowing a single to Allen and a walk to pinch-hitter Franmil Reyes. Callaway pulled Matz at 98 pitches and watched the decision pay off, as Justin Wilson entered to strike out Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado.
Callaway and Matz both said the period he spent in the bullpen hasn’t necessarily helped Matz’s progression, but he has made notable strides since returning. His 8.14 first-inning ERA is still an eyesore, but that number has lowered with scoreless first frames in each of his seven starts since the break.
Being aggressive has been the key.
“I think you just learn from your mistakes early on,” Matz said. “It’s not anything crazy. I just think it’s a little bit more of, instead of just trying to feel what I have out there, just being a little bit more aggressive in that first inning and that’s helped me.”
Using Tuesday as a barometer for the upcoming litmus test on this homestand against contending teams, Matz said he’s confident. He doesn’t necessarily view these as make-or-break games, however.
“I think we’re playing good baseball, and I think we’re just going to bring our best every time here,” he said. “I think we have a lot of confidence in ourselves as individuals and this group what we’ve got going.”