Steven Matz turned in his sixth quality start since the beginning of June, lasting six and a third innings in last night’s 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. This is not to say, however, that Matz necessarily matched his past successes, as he allowed three runs, but on eight hits and two homers in a much more tumultuous effort.
Considering Matz’s last three starts featured some less formidable lineups (Tampa Bay, Miami, and Pittsburgh), this sort of fall back to earth was in some ways inevitable. And to be fair, his ERA for the season is still at a (very) respectable 3.38. The lefty was clearly challenged through the first four innings, though, as he pitched to contact with mixed results.
The first two innings definitely crimped Matz’s newfound mentality towards focusing, making pitches, and getting ahead. While he limited the Nats to just one run on 28 pitches in his first two frames, Matz worked just two hitters counts, and grooving a fastball to Anthony Rendon in the first immediately lodged him in a 2-0 hole, as the third baseman lined it out of sight.
With everything moving much faster, Matz was forced to adapt, and still limited the damage, working out a one-run third and scoreless fourth inning. Again, however, there were a few notable hitches that, under different circumstances, could have spelled disaster. Matz needed 23 pitches to navigate the third inning, and was again burned by a Rendon homer, this one on a hanging curveball.
A liberal low strike zone helped Matz set down Bryce Harper looking, and the lefty was again given a gift when Mark Reynolds flew out to right on a 3-0 sinker to end the frame. A similar narrative followed into the fourth, as, to his credit, the lefty worked around a runner at second with one out, but he did so thanks in large part to his center fielder Matt den Dekker, who ran down a deep fly ball and slid over to steal extra-base hits from Matt Wieters and Max Scherzer (respectively) – the bottom two hitters in Washington’s lineup.
Matz was able to turn a corner just in time for the s third go-around through the order, and he definitely turned the narrative over by keeping his team in the game, something he has seemingly done the entire year. Matz deployed just 10 pitches in the fifth, finally beating Rendon with a forceout grounder to second base, and extracting a one-pitch groundout from Harper to keep the Mets within striking distance.
“I think he’s navigating the game a little better — making better pitches in situations,” manager Mickey Callaway said in the post-game. “He’s just maturing as an overall major league pitcher and his stuff has gotten better.”
Matz’s consistent ability to work around adversity was its most obvious in the sixth, as he nullified two walks (his only two of the night) and a weak grounder that loaded the bases by getting Trea Turner to pop out to the middle of the diamond. Callaway gave him Juan Soto – who had notched two hits off Matz earlier in the contest – to lead off the seventh. Five pitches and one called strikeout later (his fourth K on the night), Matz was pulled to a rousing ovation.
The Mets would come up to bat down 5-1 after Jerry Blevins allowed a two-run homer off the bat of Harper, but despite failing to make it out of such a hole, the Mets weren’t necessarily hindered by Matz’s performance. If anything, the resourceful pitching in the middle innings defined an evening that didn’t get off on the most promising of feet.
“[It’s] been a big separator for me this year – being able to get out of those jams and just bear down when I have to,” Matz said after the game. Lowering the walk-rate and keeping his offense in a decent position to compete have been consistent themes through Matz’s past three months on the mound, even enduring against a tough lineup. Hopefully, the lefty can preserve that momentum from the latter half of his evening.