So far, so good for Matz: 'It's just awesome'

April 6th, 2021

The Blue Jays bet on this offseason, and when injuries started piling up around him late in camp, the stakes of that bet grew higher.

Matz falls in the middle of the Blue Jays rotation, somewhere between Hyun Jin Ryu at the top, and that Robbie Ray and Nate Pearson group who are working their way back. That’s why he’s suddenly so important to this pitching staff, as one of the few constants that those injuries and bullpen strategies can orbit around.

Long-term, the Blue Jays need upside in their rotation, and they need it badly. Some of that could come from Matz, himself, but for now the Blue Jays need stability, and that’s exactly what the left-hander provided in his 2021 debut on Monday, a 6-2 win over the Rangers.

“It was great. I’m smiling here, because that’s the way he pitched in Spring Training,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after the win. “He’s been in command the whole time and that’s great to see. We’re going to need him. It was a great start. His first start for the Blue Jays, it’s just awesome.”

Matz carved through three perfect innings on just 43 pitches to start, and while he couldn’t always keep it on cruise control in his later innings, he found a way to make it work, which is just as important over the long haul. He even got a crack at the seventh inning -- the ultimate rarity for a Blue Jays starter a year ago -- and finished with nine strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball, tied with Roger Clemens for second-most strikeouts in a Blue Jays debut. (David Price has the most strikeouts, with 11.) Pushing that deep into the game on 91 pitches was key for the Blue Jays, and an encouraging sign for Matz, too.

“Now that the season’s underway, and obviously we had a lot of fans in the stands, you’ve got that extra adrenaline,” Matz said. “It really counts. It was definitely another good outing to build off of. I’m just going to try to continue to get better each time, but it’s definitely good to get the first one.”

Matz credited his fastball with leading the way on Monday, especially given how well he spotted it to his glove side, but his changeup deserves some credit, too. Matz threw the changeup 29 times for five whiffs and a couple of called strikes, pairing very well with his fastball, which averaged an impressive 95.3 mph.

Over the past three seasons, from 2018-20, Matz recorded an out in the seventh inning in only 11 of his 66 starts. Innings are at a premium this season, as pitchers stretch back out to a full-season schedule, so starts like this will be worth their weight in gold. Much of the focus will be on the starters themselves, but an outing like Matz’s on Monday saves those multi-inning relievers, who will be taking on a heavy workload all season long.

Between consistency and health, Matz hasn’t always put his tools together, but this is still a pitcher in his prime physical years who, back in 2015, was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in baseball. We’re a long way from 2015, of course, but when Matz was cruising through this Rangers lineup early, and cranking his fastball up to a peak of 96.6 mph, you could see what pitching coach Pete Walker still calls some “untapped” potential.

“The velocity is there, the command is there, the spin on the breaking ball and off-speed pitches,” Walker said. “He can do a variety of things. He’s a big, strong left-handed pitcher. He checks a lot of boxes when you’re talking about a Major League starter.”

Jansen leaves game with knee injury
Catcher took a foul tip off his right knee in the sixth inning, right between the padding on his shin guards. Jansen appeared to be in pain as he finished the inning, but was removed from the game afterward for backup Alejandro Kirk. Montoyo said that Jansen was already feeling a bit better post-game, so this is considered a “day to day” issue.

“For Danny Jansen to come out of a game, it’s got to hurt,” Montoyo said.

Given that Jansen typically catches Ryu, who’s in line for the 2:05 p.m. ET start in Wednesday’s finale, it makes sense to have Kirk catch Tanner Roark in Game 2 of the series on Tuesday night.