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Matz unveils new move to first in spring debut

Mets lefty feels healthy, hopes to improve on containing runners
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

JUPITER, Fla. -- Of all the left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball last season, only two allowed more stolen bases than Steven Matz. One of them, Jon Lester, distrusted his pickoff move to such an extent that he literally never threw over to first base.

Matz's place on the leaderboard was part of a larger problem Mets pitchers and catchers had containing baserunners, resulting in more steals against them than any other team. So when Matz returned to his offseason home in Nashville this winter, he made his pickoff move a focal point. Recalling conversations he had with former Mets teammate Scott Rice two years ago, Matz trained himself to hesitate during his delivery with a runner on first, allowing him to delay committing to a pitch or a pickoff.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Of all the left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball last season, only two allowed more stolen bases than Steven Matz. One of them, Jon Lester, distrusted his pickoff move to such an extent that he literally never threw over to first base.

Matz's place on the leaderboard was part of a larger problem Mets pitchers and catchers had containing baserunners, resulting in more steals against them than any other team. So when Matz returned to his offseason home in Nashville this winter, he made his pickoff move a focal point. Recalling conversations he had with former Mets teammate Scott Rice two years ago, Matz trained himself to hesitate during his delivery with a runner on first, allowing him to delay committing to a pitch or a pickoff.

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In the second inning of his Grapefruit League debut on Monday, an 8-2 Mets win, Matz unleashed the new move against the Marlins, who did not attempt a steal against him.

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Time will tell if that becomes a trend.

"I felt good today," Matz said. "I'm going to continue on with it, and I'm sure it will get more comfortable the more I do it."

Consider the move a major adjustment for Matz, who has never felt completely comfortable pitching out of the stretch. Last year, Matz held hitters to a .284 on-base percentage and .437 slugging mark with the bases empty. Those numbers jumped to .323 and .492 with men on base -- at least partially, Matz feels, because he was so preoccupied with the threat of a steal.

Matz's new delivery takes most of the pickoff decision out of his hands. Rather than commit to a pickoff before beginning his delivery, Matz hesitates partway through it, making the choice to throw over only after gauging a baserunner's intentions.

"It's all a feel thing," Matz said, adding: "When you see how much guys run on you, you want to shut the running game down."

"It'll be huge for him," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

That makes sense because, when healthy last year, Matz struggled with little aside from containing baserunners. Health was his other primary issue; Matz's season ultimately ended in September and he underwent surgery in October to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. Monday's outing was his first game action since that operation. The left-hander threw two scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out one.

"I definitely had some nerves going into it, just because it's been a long time since I've been out there," Matz said. "I had to make sure I had my cleats on, my hat on, everything. When I was first getting out of there, I felt kind of awkward for a second. And then once I started throwing, I felt good."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets, Steven Matz