MIAMI — In the month since it was revealed that he’s been pitching through a painful bone spur in his left elbow, Steven Matz has quietly searched for ways to make do.
Depending on how he feels from start-to-start, he has cut down on the number of pitches in his bullpen sessions, though he’s always mindful of throwing enough to keep working at his craft.
But until the Mets’ 3-0 victory against the Marlins on Sunday, it had been nearly two months since Matz could soak in the reward that makes it all worthwhile: a win.
“The big thing for me is to find a way to get through it,” said Matz, who tossed six shutout innings in his first victory since May 25, a stretch of nine starts.
Just like Matz, the Mets have found a way to make it work, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. They hit just one homer in three games, struggled to hit with runners in scoring position and watched Jacob deGrom get pummeled in his worst start of the year.
Yet, the Mets (52-45) won two of three in a critical games against the Marlins (53-45), who they now trail by a half game for the second NL wild card.
“They’re all big right now,” said manager Terry Collins, who faces another critical series beginning Monday at Citi Field against the Cardinals. “I said it after the break. This was crunchtime for us.”
Yoenis Cespedes and James Loney delivered back-to-back run-scoring singles in the eighth inning off reliever Kyle Barraclough to add a cushion. To that point, Jose Reyes’ RBI triple in the third had been the only run.
In his first big-league start in centerfield, Michael Conforto made a diving catch on the first Marlins batter and he added two hits before he was lifted for a pinch hitter.
The bullpen pieced together three scoreless innings.
Hansel Robles, who has emerged as a weapon, struck out two in a scoreless seventh inning. He lowered his ERA to 1.47 ERA with 21 strikeouts since June 21, a span of 18 1⁄3 innings. Increasingly, Collins has showed more trust in the righthander, even late in close games.
“It’s been a big accomplishment for me personally,” Robles said through a translator. “I’ve been preparing for this for a long time.”
Addison Reed lowered his ERA to 1.37 since May 1 with a scoreless eighth inning, which came against the heart of the Marlins lineup.
In the ninth, closer Jeurys Familia nailed down his 51st consecutive save dating to Aug. 1, 2015, equaling Jose Valverde for the third-longest regular season streak in big-league history.
With that, Matz finally reaped the rewards of gutting out a painful elbow condition, one that will require surgery. In his previous nine starts, Matz was 0-5 with a 4.73 ERA, with the team winning just two of those outings.
Though he kept the Marlins off the board, Matz spent much of the afternoon with his back on the ropes, holding off trouble. He didn’t enjoy a clean inning until the sixth, which was also his last.
Matz’s biggest escape came in the fifth. After two-out hits by Martin Prado and Christian Yelich, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton stepped to the plate, fresh off his four-hit game on Saturday.
Stanton walked with two outs and one on in the first, and Matz appeared cautious once more, falling behind, 2-and-0. But he flipped a breaking ball that Stanton hit weakly to short.
He was out by a step.
Matz gave up four hits, walked two and struck out six, mostly because he kept the dangerous Stanton from doing damage.
“I just didn’t want to miss fat, didn’t want to make a mistake where he could extend his hands and hit the ball out of the ballpark with two runners on,” said Matz, who did not allow a run in a start for the first time since May 25, which had been his last victory.