The last time Steven Matz pitched against the Philadelphia Phillies, he exited at the end of the second inning, having chucked 58 pitches in a losing four-run effort.
Back on the hill and fresh off two consecutive seven-inning, one-run performances, the narrative should have been different his second time around.
Unfortunately, the two issues that have troubled Matz throughout the year – spotty control and general inefficiency – prevented him from building off his past success.
In the Mets’ 4-3 loss last night, Matz only lasted five innings, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Both runs scored on a two-run homer from Carlos Santana in the third inning, and all things considered, the lefty hung tough as the pitches continued to stack up. Therein lies the problem, however. Matz’s quickest inning came in an 11-pitch second, where he retired the side in order while striking out his first two hitters – Asdrubal Cabrera and Cesar Hernandez,respectively.
The sequence of Cabrera’s at-bat particularly resonated as one such reflection of the type of night that unfolded for Matz.
He struck out on six pitches, five of which were strikes. The third, fourth and fifth pitches, despite only the fifth being a ball, were all poorly-located.
Cabrera fouled off a series of fastballs and sliders that bled out over the middle of the plate before flailing at a curveball for strike three on the sixth and last pitch.
Matz faced 20 batters on 103 pitches – making for a career-high rate of 5.15 pitches thrown per plate appearance. Oddly enough, he threw 65 such pitches for strikes, essentially attacking his hitters successfully yet failing to put them away altogether.
His strikeout and hit totals were familiar sights relative to his last couple of starts on the mound, but he definitely avoided some harsh punishment with a few curveballs and sliders that just couldn’t find a home out of the strike zone.
Santana’s homer came on a sinker inside that ended a 10-pitch showdown, but was prolonged by sliders and curveballs up and in that were taken or fouled off to prolong the at-bat. The same could be said both for Jorge Alfaro and Aaron Altherr. Alfaro led off the inning by drawing a walk to win an eight-pitch at-bat and Altherr ended a seven-pitch shift (and a 34-pitch third inning) with a groundout.
While Matz was able to use his changeup consistently along the outer third of the plate, he failed to bring down his curveball and slider – something he had done particularly well in his fantastic start against the San Francisco Giants just a week ago – which ran his counts up.
When he was able to get outs with either pitch, the results were rather loud, and would have spelled disaster had it not been for a handful of nifty snags from Todd Frazier.
Save for a three-pitch punchout of opposing pitcher Aaron Nola and his two strikeouts of Cabrera and Hernandez to begin the second, Matz only notched strikeouts with his changeup and fastball (the latter of which sat between 93-94 mph for most of the night). Even Nola’s next turn at the dish had its twists and turns, as the lefty got ahead 0-2 before falling into a full count and skating by as Nola flailed at a sinking fastball out of the zone for strike three.
There’s little point to discrediting Matz’s start because ultimately, the toughness and flexibility that he has demonstrated so often again showed themselves. It’s still worth noting that with his eight strikeouts in the books, Matz now has a 42.2 percent rate in his last two starts – nearly double the 21.5 percent he had spread across his first 24 starts. The process of turning a corner and making pitches is far from over.
Pulling them out on half a repertoire is an accomplishment worth keeping in consideration. Some days are obviously harder to get through than others, but given Matz’s inconsistent control and vulnerability to slumps, it is crucial that he get back into a habit of zipping through innings.
With that said, however, finishing pitches is just as important. And failing to stomp out Philly bats late in counts, while hopefully an anomaly going forward, will have even more damaging implications against more threatening lineups if unresolved.