The Steven Matz that took the mound in last night’s loss to the Yankees was not the same number three starter who had turned in a strong, healthy May. While he had pitched to a 2.32 ERA and 1.19 WHIP dating back to a start against the Rockies on the 5th, Matz was unable to keep true to an uncharacteristically liberal 3-0 lead, slowly perishing beneath patient yet ferocious Yankee bats. His final line, despite six strikeouts, was marred by four walks and three runs on five hits (two homers) in six innings.
Matz had a few hiccups in each of his first four innings, but managed to push his way out of trouble and limit the damage to just one run. Despite allowing a double to Aaron Hicks in the first and solo homer to Gleyber Torres in the third, the lefty began the fifth inning at just 63 pitches, with only three having left the infield, no less.
Among noteworthy moments in Matz’s performance were some very timely strikeouts and double-play grounders that kept him above water through the first four frames. With Hicks on second and one out in the first, Matz overcame a 3-1 count to Giancarlo Stanton, striking him out with a perfectly located two-seamer on the inside corner. He immediately proceeded to nab Hicks on a pickoff – a clear response to those who criticized his game-changing lethargic pickoff try against the Chicago Cubs on last Sunday. Matz led off and wrapped up the second inning with strikeouts of Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin, and induced a routine 6-4-3 double play from Miguel Andujar to mitigate a leadoff walk in the fourth.
The roof started to cave in the fifth, however. While a Didi Gregorius leadoff single was certainly less than ideal, it was Matz’s four-pitch walk to Domingo German, the opposing pitcher attempting to bunt, that spelled an unfortunate change in momentum – putting two men on with only one out. Matz responded with a strikeout of Torres in a hard-fought eight-pitch at-bat, but proceeded to walk Hicks, thus bringing Aaron Judge to the plate with the bases loaded. Matz got away with a hanging slider, and with a groundout to short put a turbulent 24-pitch inning to bed.
After retiring Stanton on a leadoff groundout in the sixth, Matz, now at 89 pitches, hit another wall. After walking Sanchez on a five-pitch cocktail of badly spotted breaking balls, Matz hung a curveball to Andujar that was promptly driven into the left-field seats to tie the game. Although it technically goes down as a quality start, Matz was not particularly eager to describe it as such.
“Four walks is no good. Fastball command was bad. Really bad pitch in the sixth inning and it cost us the game essentially.”
However, if there is one positive to take away from Matz’s start, it was the fact that although he bent, he didn’t necessarily break. Giving leads back in a six-inning start is never a good sign, but exiting under your own power, as Matz has done in every one of his starts dating back to April 25th (excluding his start in Atlanta that was cut short due to a finger injury), is always a great way to preserve composure. For a pitcher who has historically battled injuries and confidence issues, Matz’s ability to recover from some lapses in control and get the outs he needed most has not wavered in quite a while.
Mickey Callaway seemed to be impressed that the 27-year old lefty battled, despite clearly laboring out on the mound.
“He is proving that he’s that consistent guy who’s out there and conscious of what he’s trying to do on the next pitch. If you can focus on the next pitch for 100 pitches, you’re going to be okay, especially with the stuff that he has to attack hitters with.”
For a starter who averaged just 4 1/3 innings per start through the month of April, Steven Matz has evolved into a much more useful, reliable piece in a rotation. Against a surging and competitive Bronx lineup, for that matter, Matz certainly held his own. Not a single Yankee runner came home from scoring position, and even when things got dicey in his last two innings, Matz continued to make the adjustments.