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Steven Matz goes seven sharp innings in return to help Mets sweep Braves

Steven Matz of the New York Mets pitches

Steven Matz of the New York Mets pitches during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on June 10, 2017 in Atlanta. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Daniel Shirey

ATLANTA — It takes more than one splendid day to regain control of a season. But by sweeping a doubleheader against the Braves on Saturday, the Mets took what may be a critical first step.

In his first game back in almost six weeks, slugger Yoenis Cespedes blasted a ninth-inning grand slam to turn a tense opener into a 6-1 romp. In the nightcap, Jay Bruce hit his 16th homer of the season to power an 8-1 victory.

In both cases, the Mets’ much-maligned starting pitching snapped to attention. Righty Robert Gsellman and lefty Steven Matz delivered the kind of dominant performances that had been expected to be the norm.

Said Bruce: “It’s a lift that we needed.”

The Mets bounced back from a walk-off loss in Friday’s series opener, improving to 27-33. At six games under .500, plenty of work remains, though the road might not be as daunting with Cespedes back in the fold and signs of a turnaround from a beleaguered pitching staff.

“I think there’s still time and we’ve still got a chance,” Cespedes said.

Gsellman began the day reinforcing his claim to a spot in the rotation, tossing 6 2⁄3 shutout innings. Until Cespedes intervened, it had been a pitching duel, with Braves lefty Sean Newcomb allowing just one unearned run in 6 1⁄3 innings in his impressive big-league debut.

But Gsellman won the battle, extending what has been an impressive surge since his temporary demotion to the bullpen. In Gsellman’s first seven starts of the season, he posted a 7.27 ERA. But after a pair of relief appearances, he has a 2.16 ERA in his last four starts.

With Matz and Lugo returning from injury, Gsellman had been ticketed to return to the bullpen. But now he will instead remain in the rotation with the Mets intending to adopt a six-man alignment.

“It’s just being consistent with my sinker down in the zone, getting ahead on batters and just getting them out,” said Gsellman, who generated nine ground-ball outs.

Yet, Matz proved just as good as his teammate in the nightcap, coming off the disabled list to allow one run in seven innings in his first of the season.

Despite his long layoff because of a balky elbow, Matz showed impeccable command. And just like Gsellman earlier, he settled into a groove, pitching efficiently through seven innings.

“I was really happy with the command and the way I was kind of able to get ahead of guys,” Matz said following his first start since Aug. 14. “That was kind of what I was going for.”

One day after getting Matz and Cespedes back from the disabled list, the Mets welcome back another of their wounded when Seth Lugo starts Sunday’s finale. He’ll take the mound with hopes of continuing the momentum from a much-needed doubleheader sweep.

“They know what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished in the past,” Collins said. “But you’ve got to start doing it again. Today, coming in here and sweeping a split doubleheader against a team that plays great at their park and has been swinging very, very well I think is a lift for us.”

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