PORT ST. LUCIE – There are countless injury-prone players needed by the Mets to stay on the field to make a true difference this season, making it easy to overlook Steven Matz amid that cavalcade of big names.
The Long Island product has yet to survive a full year in the majors without spending significant time on the disabled list since his arrival in 2015, but the Mets’ lone left-handed starter is optimistic that he can get his hometown-hero career back on track following another wasted campaign that ended with elbow surgery.
“I feel really good coming into camp, so I’m excited,” Matz said after tossing a bullpen session alongside Noah Syndergaard and a few others on Friday at First Data Field. “It’s really exciting, honestly. I was able to get some good work this offseason and that’s huge for me, I would say mentally even more than physically.”
Matz experienced elbow discomfort during camp last spring – with team doctors terming it a flexor tendon strain and prescribing a platelet-rich plasma injection. He opened the 2017 campaign on the disabled list and didn’t make his first start until June 10, but after posting a 2.12 ERA over five starts, his season deteriorated rapidly from there.
The Mets’ medical staff was unable to pinpoint the source of the lingering discomfort that plagued Matz between starts, causing him difficulty finishing off his pitches on the mound. He was roughed up for a 10.19 ERA over his final eight outings, with opponents strafing him for seven home runs and a .385 batting average.
Matz finished the year with a 2-7 record and a bloated 6.08 ERA until he finally was shut down in August to undergo season-ending surgery to reposition the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow.
“They moved the nerve over, they take it out of the groove and they sew it down. I don’t know exactly what they did, but they moved it out of the way from where it was,” Matz said of the surgery, which was similar to the one Jacob deGrom underwent late in the 2016 season. “I started throwing probably early December.
“This was like my fifth bullpen of the year, so I’m feeling really good mentally. When you can get that many bullpens coming into camp, mentally it’s definitely a relief.”
Physically, Matz knows he needs to prove he can stay healthy after making just 40 additional starts since his whirlwind debut in June of 2015 with 7 2/3 strong innings, as well as three hits and four RBI at the plate.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery as a minor-leaguer in 2010, Matz missed two months as a rookie in 2015 with a partially torn lat. He also dealt with bone spurs in his elbow and shoulder issues the following season, even ahead of last year’s disaster.
“That’s what I want to do, I just want to take the ball every start,” the 26-year-old lefty said. “If I could say any goal, that’s it.”
Among the Mets’ projected starting rotation, only deGrom made it through last season unscathed, reaching 200 innings for the first time. That uncertainty is why the front office continues to consider adding another starter as camp approaches, with proven arms such as Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb still available as free agents.
“I think we have a lot of potential here and if guys can maximize that and be healthy, I think that’s a huge part of it,” Matz said. “You can just kind of feel the atmosphere around this place. There’s a lot of excitement.”
Matz, who was married to country singer Taylor Cain during the offseason, added he’s encouraged by the addition of former Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway as the Mets’ new manager, with Dave Eiland serving as his pitching coach.
“I think they’re great. They seem really organized. They seem really fired up and really confident that we’re going to win with this team. That’s the kind of statement they’re making coming in here,” Matz said. “I think if anything, it will be better just because (Callaway) knows what it’s like. He was a pitcher himself and a pitching coach to a really good pitching staff. I think if it’s different in any way, it’ll be better for us as pitchers.”
- new york mets
- steven matz
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