Mets manager Terry Collins wouldn’t commit to a max number of pitches that Steven Matz could have thrown had he kept his no-hitter intact past the eighth inning Sunday.
That said, Collins does appear ready to give his young aces a bit more of a leash.
Matz was pulled after 105 pitches and 7 1⁄3 innings of one-hit ball in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the visiting Padres, and had it not been for a 120-pitch start last time out, Collins might have left him in the game a little longer.
“Had he got through the eighth inning, I was going to let him start the ninth, depending on what the eighth inning looked like,” Collins said. “If he walked a couple guys and got up there pretty high, I wasn’t going to visit the Johan Santana scenario again, I can tell you that.”
Santana infamously tossed 134 pitches in his no-hitter in 2012, and many blame that outing for the collapse of his career. Santana was also coming back from shoulder surgery, so that certainly enhanced the risks associated with throwing more than 100 pitches.
But Matz, who has been bothered by bone spurs, said his pitching elbow is feeling fine. Collins said his background in player development makes him think twice about leaving young arms in games too long.
The last thing on Collins’ mind is to risk putting his stable of youthful arms at risk with high pitch counts, but he did say he wants to give his guys the confidence to pitch late into games when needed.
“I think it means a lot to the team,” he said. “And I’ll tell you it means a lot to the pitching staff. And not just here. It means a lot to those guys sitting in Las Vegas because make no mistake, they’re looking at the boxscores, and when they see, wow, they’re expected to throw 115 to 120 pitches a night. When they see that, and they see what these guys are doing, it catches on, and it becomes something that’s organization-wide.”
Collins cited Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw before the game as examples of aces who frequently work late into games and aren’t bothered by throwing 120 pitches. He sees that potential in his young aces, including the injured Matt Harvey.
A rare breed in today’s game so focused on limiting innings and pitch counts, Collins isn’t alone in his hope to stretch out pitchers. When Nolan Ryan — who averaged 127 pitches a game in 1989 at age 42 — became the Rangers’ president in 2008, his goal was to condition young pitchers in the minors to the point where 100 wasn’t the end of an outing.
Matz was appreciative of the leash he’s been given his past two turns through the rotation. He said it helps pitchers to work through fatigue.
“I think it’s good when you get deep into games because you get a little tired and you have to work on things a little bit more,” he said. “So, you have to have better command of your pitches because you’re not going to have the extra life you do early on.”
When injury concerns arise, it’s reasonable for managers to monitor workloads closely. But aces are best utilized when given the chance to pitch into the eighth and ninth innings, further increasing their team’s chances of winning.
Collins sees each of his four big-name starters as candidates to be those types of pitchers. When the time is right and the injury risks are minimized, he’ll unleash their full force on the National League.