Cardinals pitcher Steven Matz throws during the third inning of...

Cardinals pitcher Steven Matz throws during the third inning of a spring training game against the Nationals on March 4 in West Palm Beach, Fla.  Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

Steven Matz is health-conscious, and that’s understandable.

As the St. Louis Cardinals lefthander begins his 10th year in the majors, he expects a bounce- back campaign after two injury-riddled seasons.

The Setauket product out of Ward Melville High School, who earned the Yastrzemski Award as Suffolk’s top high school player in 2009, saw his first two years with the Cardinals crippled by injury. The former Met says that’s all behind him now  and that he feels great.

“I want to make 30-plus starts this season,” he said. “I’m throwing well in camp. And I’m building a process that works this spring instead of being results-oriented. I’ve changed my offseason training and doing things differently while paying close attention and listening to my body.”

Matz, who went 31-41 with a 4.35 ERA in six seasons with the Mets, wants to be that durable guy in the middle of the Cardinals' revamped pitching rotation. He does his physical therapy sessions before throwing and has cut down on his throwing sessions from four to three each week — a less-is-more concept.

Matz, 32, in the third year of a four-year, $44 million free-agent deal, bumped his velocity to 97 mph in spring training and said his focus is on being healthy and available all season.

“My first two years with the Cardinals were not what I envisioned,” Matz said. “There was disappointment early on, and when I got on the right track last year, I suffered a season-ending injury. I’m in a much better place and feel great.”

The 2023 season offered a mixed bag for Matz. He got off to a slow start, losing his first six decisions as a starter, and was demoted to the bullpen in late May. A meager Cardinals offense didn't help, scoring  only 16 runs in his 10 starts.

Matz righted himself in the bullpen, posting a 2.81 ERA in eight relief appearances, and returned to the starting rotation on July 9. He had a 4-0 record with a 1.86 ERA and struck out 38 in 38 2/3 innings in seven starts after that. He recorded 17 consecutive scoreless innings from July 20- Aug. 5, the longest by any Cardinals pitcher in 2023.

“It felt good,” Matz said. “Everything was coming together.”

Matz was so good in his return to the rotation that he ranked second in MLB in wins, third in ERA and seventh in batting average against (.190) from July 20 through Aug. 12.

Then he missed the last 44 games of the season with a Grade 2 latissimus dorsi strain on his left side.

“It was awful,” said Matz, who also saw his first season with the Cardinals derailed by injuries, including a left shoulder impingement and a left knee strain. He missed 102 games.

“I’m ready for this season with big expectations,” he said. “We have a veteran team with a cool mix of experienced guys and younger, talented players. No one liked what happened last year. We’re a winning organization.”

The Cardinals finished 71-91 and in last place in the NL Central.

The last time Matz was healthy for an entire season, he posted impressive stats. It came across the border in Canada, as he finished with a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021. He ranked second in MLB behind the Dodgers' Julio Urias for most wins by a lefthanded pitcher and recorded a career-high nine road wins, tied for second most in the American League behind the Yankees' Gerrit Cole, who had 10.

“It’s fairly simple: Stay healthy and make an impact,” he said.

This season, it looks as if Matz will be the fourth starter in a rotation that includes Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and staff ace Miles Mikolas.

Matz’s father, Ron, has watched his son battle through injuries and rehab assignments over the years and never waver.

“He has a strong Christian faith and he’s a wonderful family man,” Ron Matz said. “He’s had a 10-year major-league career and is coming back stronger than ever. He and his wife, Taylor, have a beautiful little girl, Stevie. Life is great. I’m so proud of him. Steven always says, ‘I play baseball, but it doesn’t define me.' ”

Matz accepted the Darryl Kile Award at the 64th annual St. Louis baseball writers dinner in January. The award is presented annually to the St. Louis Cardinals player who best exemplifies Kile's traits of "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man." The winner is determined by the local chapter of baseball writers.

“No one is surprised Steven won such a prestigious award,” said Lou Petrucci, Matz's baseball coach at Ward Melville. “He’s loved by everyone. He’s a gentle soul but a fierce competitor.”

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