PHILADELPHIA — For some pitchers, throwing baseballs to precise locations from 60 feet, 6 inches is about the extent of their world-class ability. Throwing to first or second? Much different than sending it home. Running? They would rather not. Swinging the bat? Ha, good luck.
Steven Matz is not one of those pitchers. In the Mets’ 5-2 loss to the Phillies Tuesday night, in a game that amounted merely to continuing to play out the string for the visitors, Matz contributed one of the better all-around athletic nights the club has seen this season.
“He’s a great athlete, strong kid — he kind of put it on display tonight,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He’s just a good baseball player I guess. Pretty impressive.”
With five shutout innings — two hits, five walks, four strikeouts — Matz did his job on the mound. That effort lowered his ERA to 4.03 and set a career high in innings at 145.
Matz also homered off NL Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola and finished his night with a standout double play: a behind-the-back snag of Roman Quinn’s line drive (a catch made while he hopped and then fell) and an easy throw to first from his knees to double off Rhys Hoskins.
“I’ve been working on that in [pitchers' fielding practice],” Matz said.
The home run, a shot to left-center on Nola's curveball, was the most unlikely of those feats, coming against one of Jacob deGrom’s primary opponents for the Cy Young Award. After going deep zero times in his first 70 games, Matz has homered in consecutive starts. The last Mets pitcher to do so: Ron Darling in 1989.
“I got no explanation,” Matz said.
Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith (RBI double) each had two hits for the Mets (70-81). Philadelphia (77-73) took the lead in the sixth, when it scored five runs in a five-batter span off Jerry Blevins and Drew Smith, a rally capped by Jorge Alfaro’s three-run, no-doubt home run.
As for Nola, well, his Cy Young candidacy is hanging by a thread at best. He struck out nine and allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, his ERA sitting at 2.44 — 0.66 behind Jacob deGrom’s 1.78.
Nola’s ERA would have gone down slightly if not for Matz’s homer. After rounding the bases, Matz said he walked up to his buddy deGrom and told him, “That was for my friend.”
Callaway said the Mets had not decided as of Tuesday afternoon whether to shut down Zack Wheeler, who has thrown 101 more innings this season than he did last. But he did suggest that would be the case.
“We just have to figure out what’s going to be best for him,” Callaway said. “The main thing we want is him going into the offseason feeling good about the season and being totally healthy.”
Bruce back at first soon
A soft pause on the Jay Bruce, first baseman, experiment is just that — not a change in thinking or direction for the player or position, Callaway said.
Bruce started in rightfield Thursday for the seventh time in 24 games since returning from the disabled list. He has made only 10 starts at first — but none in the past four games and only two in the past nine.
“I would think after [Tuesday] you’re going to see him at first base pretty regularly,” said Callaway, who wanted Bruce’s bat in the lineup over Austin Jackson’s.
Bruce said the back tightness he encountered in the past while playing first hasn’t been an issue in recent weeks. A slightly more involved pregame routine has helped him get and stay loose, he said.
With the activation of Aaron Loup from the disabled list, the Phillies maxed out their active roster at 40 players. Said Callaway, speaking generally of expanded rosters in September: “There’s probably too many people active at this point. I wouldn’t mind seeing a change in the rules there.” … A deGrom stat to hold you over till his start Friday: He has held opposing hitters to a .540 OPS this year. The lowest OPS among qualified hitters this year is .550 (Baltimore’s Chris Davis). Put another way: When facing deGrom, batters have been worse than the worst of the worst.