Matz eases elbow concerns with brisk gem

After skipping a start, Mets lefty works quickly over 7 innings of 2-run ball

May 21st, 2016

NEW YORK -- Earlier this week, Steven Matz stepped into the usual Manhattan office and underwent the typical battery of tests. Doctors took X-ray images of his left elbow. They gave him a CT scan. They sent him through an MRI tube. Afterward, they shot Matz full of cortisone to heal what discomfort he had been feeling in his prized left arm.

All tests came back negative, which eased Matz's mind, and he felt well enough to throw off a mound two days later. But until Friday's 3-2 win over the Brewers, Matz had not tested his clean bill of health in a game. He had not yet overcome the mental hurdle of standing in front of 36,239 people at Citi Field, rearing back and letting it rip.

"Dealing with the injuries I have in the past, every time the elbow pops up, you question it," Matz said. "But with all the [tests] coming back clear and everything, that definitely gave me the peace of mind."

So did winning. After shaking off a first-inning Chris Carter homer on Friday, Matz retired 15 in a row en route to seven innings of two-run ball. He struck out eight. He walked zero. And he proved that when healthy, for however long he can stay that way, Matz is indeed one of baseball's brightest young pitchers.

"If you're a young pitcher and you've had an injury like Steven has -- he's had a couple of them -- and all of the sudden he has discomfort, panic sets in -- 'Oh, what is it now?'" Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I think it's tremendous peace of mind for him [to pitch well]."

In besting the Brewers, Matz became the second left-hander in baseball's modern era to win 10 of his first 13 career starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He also became the first pitcher in franchise history to win 10 of his first 11 big league decisions, and the first Met since R.A. Dickey in 2012 to earn wins in six consecutive starts. No rookie in baseball can match Matz's six wins, nor his 2.81 ERA, making him an early candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Little secret exists as to how Matz is accomplishing all this. Coming into the night baseball's fastest worker in terms of seconds between pitches, Matz quickly settled into a groove with Mets catcher Rene Rivera. When Matz missed the strike zone, as he did just 23 times in 88 pitches, he frequently came back with the same exact pitch.

"We had a good plan," Rivera said. "We executed. We like to work fast. I think that's good for a pitcher, to get the pace going, keep the hitters off balance."

This is what the Mets expect from Matz when healthy, though that caveat remains significant. The only thing still obscuring the left-hander's immense talent at this point is his lengthy injury history, which includes a Tommy John surgery in 2010, a complicated recovery from that procedure and various other ailments in subsequent seasons. So it was only natural for the Mets to fret more than normal when Matz complained of elbow soreness following his last start, announcing almost immediately that they would skip his next one.

They hope now that Matz's elbow injuries will not resurface. At this point, in this groove, he means too much to the staff.

"Obviously, Matz is throwing really well right now," said Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, whose two-run homer was the difference in the game. "He's an aggressive pitcher. That pace, it might give us momentum. And I think that's a very good thing for us."