PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Shortly after he signed with the Mets, but weeks before he reported to spring training, Wilson Ramos studied a team-provided book of data about his new staff — which pitchers throw what pitches, where they throw them, when they throw them and so on.
One of the Mets’ starters struck Ramos as familiar. A long-and-lean lefthander who throws kind of hard and has a big curveball? Ramos had to tell manager Mickey Callaway about his epiphany: Steven Matz reminded him of Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner whose blossoming coincided with being paired with Ramos in Tampa Bay.
And now the catcher wants to help Matz take the kind of leap Snell did.
“It’s more mental. They already have the talent,” Ramos said. “You have five days. They pitch every five days. You got four to do everything you want. The day you pitch, that should be a serious day.
“Blake is young, but he was doing that. I talked with him a couple times [in 2017]. The next year — so, last year — he was really focused about what he was doing. I was impressed.”
Matz/Snell isn’t a perfect comparison, and indeed might be unfairly lofty considering Snell’s Cy Young status. Snell is a little younger, throws a little harder and had a greater prospect pedigree. But Matz, like Snell, has the raw talent, but hasn’t put it all together in a full major-league season.
Ramos was the Rays’ catcher for about 13 months, June 2017 through July 2018. Snell started to stabilize in the second half of 2017 (posting a 3.49 ERA, much better than his 4.85 in the first half) before truly breaking out last season, leading the American League with a 1.89 ERA while reaching career highs in starts (31) and innings (180 2/3).
To Ramos, improvement on the psychological side allowed Snell’s natural ability to shine. And that’s where pitching coach Dave Eiland wants Matz to get better. Matz spent much of last season working on not unraveling when things — a play by a teammate, a call by an umpire — didn’t go his way.
“As long as Steven’s mind is right, the body will follow,” Eiland said.
Matz took a big step last year by making 30 starts — for the first time in his career — with a 3.97 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Perhaps as significantly, he headed into the offseason fully healthy, an uncommon occurrence in his nearly decade as a pro.
That allowed Matz to borrow from Jacob deGrom’s routine and take only two weeks off from throwing. He began playing catch in mid-October, as opposed to his usual Christmastime start.
“I felt coming into spring training, I was more ready than I’ve ever been,” Matz said. “I always felt like I was behind so I can really throw easily with no sense of urgency, 'OK I just gotta get ready for spring.' It was just keeping it going.
“(DeGrom) did it and he really liked it. So going into the offseason healthy, I was like, ‘OK I'm going to give that a try’ and I really liked it as well."
Matz made his first spring training start Wednesday, allowing the Marlins one run in two innings. He struck out three and walked none. It was a routine day at a time of year when routine is preferred, but he’ll have to wait to match up with Ramos, whose experiencing catching Matz has been limited to a couple of bullpen sessions.
The Mets believe Matz can make another jump this season, much in the way Zack Wheeler did last year. If he does, Ramos is going to be a part of it.
But can Matz really excel like Snell?
“Why not? They have the same talent,” Ramos said. “Big lefty, throw hard, good curveball. To me, they look very similar. Very similar. He can do that.”