When it was over, after Carlos Gomez’s go-ahead blast in the eighth inning had provided the final runs in the Mets’ four-game sweep of sinking Washington, Steven Matz gushed about the ability of his teammates to not quit on games and not give in to opposing pitchers.
The Long Island lefty certainly could have been talking about himself in regard to his escape-artist performance in Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Nats at Citi Field.
Matz worked in and out of LIE-level traffic on the basepaths throughout his six innings — and held Washington’s lineup to one hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position — something Mickey Callaway believes represents “a huge leap” for the Ward Melville High School product.
“Chuck Hernandez, our bullpen coach, was one of my first pitching coaches in pro ball and I remember him saying this to me my first year. He said, ‘I want to see a pitcher who can go out there and throw seven innings, give up 12 hits and give up two or three runs. Because that’s really pitching,’ ” Callaway said. “The days you’ve got really good stuff, you’re gonna pitch well . . . but it’s the days that you don’t and there’s traffic everywhere and you get double plays and concentrate on executing pitches.
“This is a huge leap for Matzy, as far as his ability to shrug things off and focus on that in-between pitch routine. I could see it in his face [today].”
Matz entered Thursday’s start with a .429 (9-for-21) opposing batting average with RISP this season, but he stranded at least one runner on second base or third base in each of the first five innings until Washington reached him for a run in the sixth. That included double-play grounders by Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomez with runners on the corners to end the first two innings and a strikeout of opposing pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the bases loaded in the fourth.
“Just focused on making a pitch, that’s it,” said Matz, who tied a career high by allowing 10 hits. “Twice, I was just one pitch away and able to get ground balls, double plays. My curveball was working well for me today, so I stuck with that and I was able to get out of a lot of traffic out there.”
Aside from a brutal April 16 outing in Philadelphia in which he was clubbed for eight runs (six earned) without recording an out, Matz has posted a 2.42 ERA over his other eight starts.
“I didn’t really notice one time that he got rattled or wanted to spike a baseball or anything. He stayed under control and understood ‘I just need to execute pitches,’ ” Callaway said. “He executed pitch after pitch and stayed calm and got out of all of those jams. It was an unbelievable outing by him.
“He definitely has improved since last year, putting him in a spot where he can do what he did today. And he’s worked diligently on it. He understands that’s what it takes and I feel like in the last year he’s been making strides the whole time, pitching better and better, and he’s been one of our most consistent starters this year because of that.”