Matz Finding Place in Mets Rotation

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Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and now, Steven Matz. The rich just keep on getting richer in the Big Apple, as the Mets are about to welcome yet another highly touted young pitcher back to the club as it gears up for a playoff run.

Matz, the Mets second round pick out of Ward Melville High School (NY) in the 2009 MLB Draft, could play a key role over the last month of the season for New York as they attempt to hold off the Washington Nationals in the race for the NL East crown.

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Making his MLB debut on June 28th of this season after rising over the first three months through three levels of the New York minors system, Matz had two encouraging big league starts before landing on the disabled list with a partially torn lat muscle.

In his first career start, which came against the Cincinnati Reds, Matz tossed 7.2 innings of two-run ball, allowing five hits and walking three, recording six punchouts. He also drove in four runs at the plate.

His second start was even better, as the left-hander scattered a pair of hits over six innings, walking two and striking out eight against a solid Los Angeles Dodgers team. He recorded wins in both of those outings. The southpaw is set to return to the Majors this week following a couple of minor league rehab starts.

The 24-year-old’s path to the majors has been anything but a breeze. His debut in June came six years after he was drafted. That was mostly the result of an elbow injury sustained in his first spring training. Matz eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, and between the recovery process and subsequent setbacks, his professional debut was delayed until 2012. 

When he came back, Matz was dominant. He pitched six games with the Mets’ Kingsport affiliate to finish the 2012 season, posting a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings, striking out 34. But with his injury history, the guy who was named the Mets #11 prospect by Baseball America found himself in the #29 spot after the season.

He returned the next season in 2013 with much to prove, and started 21 games for the A-ball Savannah Sand Gnats, going 5-6 with a 2.62 ERA. He also fanned 121 in 106.1 innings.

People began to take notice of Matz once again as he continued to stymie hitters with his arsenal of pitches, one that includes a mid-90’s fastball, sinker, changeup, curveball and cutter.The stuff was there, but now it was all about staying healthy. 

In 2014 he split time between high-A Port St. Lucie and AA Binghamton. Between to the two affiliates, Matz started 24 games and went 10-9 with an impressive 2.24 ERA across 140.2 innings. He was named a Florida State League mid-season All-Star, and took home the Mets’ organizational All-Star award.

That was enough for Matz to find his way on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list, as he was named the 33rd best prospect in the game and the Mets’ number two overall prospect. It was quite a turnaround for a guy who looked destined for a non-existent big league career.

Coming to spring training this season with a chance to make the major league roster, Matz had a decent showing, allowing two earned runs in 8.2 innings over four games. But with a plethora of pitching and Matz still being relatively inexperienced, the Mets sent him to AAA Las Vegas. There, he went 7-4 with a 2.19 ERA in 14 starts.

During that stay in AAA, opposing hitters batted just .213 off of the lefty. Matz then finally got the call he dreamed of back when he was drafted as an 18-year-old, a promotion to the join the Mets.

When he comes back from the lat injury following what is scheduled to be one final rehab-start with AA Binghamton on Monday, Matz will add yet another dominant arm to a ridiculous stock of young arms.

The Phillies will miss him this week, but he will likely be added as another starter by next weekend, allowing the Mets to go to a six-man rotation, with veterans Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese joining Harvey, Syndergaard, and de Grom for the rest of 2015.

Wheeler was nearly traded to Milwaukee just prior to the trade deadline at the end of July, before a deal with the Brewers fell through. When he returns from his own Tommy John procedure some time in 2016, the Mets will have a feared five electric arms all under 27 years of age.

If Matz performs well as a starter down the home stretch, he could find himself in the postseason starting rotation. There was talk of the Mets possibly using Matz in a bullpen role, but that notion was quickly shot down by Mets’ manager Terry Collins.

Regardless, Matz’ comeback story is a nice one, and the fact he is proving himself in the Majors is even better to see after the challenges he has had to deal with.

The New York Mets open up a three-game set with the Phillies tonight in New York, and look to add to their 5.5 game lead on the Nationals. While Matz won’t play a role, he will be making his rehab start against the Phils’ AA Reading affiliates, opposing the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, Jake Thompson.

At the big league level, Jerad Eickhoff opposes Bartolo Colon in the first game of the series. Aaron Harang takes the ball against Jon Niese in the second game, and Aaron Nola faces Matt Harvey in a must-watch series finale. The series gets started at 7:10 tonight at Citi Field.

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