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Matz pulls 180 with dominant start vs. Phillies

Mental conditioning helps lefty shed previous outing: 'He wiped the slate clean'
@AnthonyDiComo
April 23, 2019

NEW YORK -- For Steven Matz , the days between starts were routine. Briefly, Matz watched video of his last outing, an eight-run blowup in Philadelphia in which he didn't record an out. He noticed the obvious -- he was leaving balls up in the zone -- and moved on.

NEW YORK -- For Steven Matz , the days between starts were routine. Briefly, Matz watched video of his last outing, an eight-run blowup in Philadelphia in which he didn't record an out. He noticed the obvious -- he was leaving balls up in the zone -- and moved on. Matz, who has made mental conditioning a focal point of his season, tried not to think about it again.

So when he followed with six effective innings Monday in a 5-1 win over the same Phillies club at Citi Field, Matz did not see it as a rebound. He viewed it as a continuation of his three strong starts to open the season.

“He kind of just picked up where he left off before,” manager Mickey Callaway said.

In his one poor start, Matz’s ERA was infinite, which he considers infinitely irrelevant. In the others, he is 2-0 with a 1.61 ERA

“I didn’t give it too much weight, honestly,” Matz said. “Knowing the platform I had going into today, I had three good starts, one bad one. I just don’t give it too much weight.”

And so whispers can stop. The grumbles can cease. The worries about Matz’s season, if not his worthiness of a rotation spot, seem a bit silly in the context of what happened Monday. Matz opened his night with six consecutive outs, or six more than he recorded six days earlier at Citizens Bank Park.

That run of perfection ended in the third inning, when Matz put two men on base with no outs. He escaped without damage, then stranded two more runners after allowing his only run on Rhys Hoskins’ fourth-inning homer. From there, Matz ended his outing the same way he began it: with two consecutive perfect innings.

By that time, the Mets had staked Matz to a comfortable lead thanks to Jeff McNeil’s first home run, Pete Alonso’s RBI double and Wilson Ramos’ run-scoring hit. The Phillies, who lost Bryce Harper to a fourth-inning ejection, never came particularly close to a comeback, allowing Matz to snap a 14-start winless streak at Citi Field.

“It’s huge that he didn’t let it affect him,” Callaway said. “He worked hard between his starts. He went out there and he focused on today. That’s one start in his whole career. He wiped the slate clean and he got the job done.”

Matz’s ability to do so did not come to him naturally. For years, Matz struggled with the mental aspect of pitching, often unraveling -- as he did last Tuesday in Philadelphia -- at an early sign of trouble.

To combat those tendencies, Matz has worked with new Mets mental skills coordinator Trevor Moawad on a concept called “neutral thinking” -- focusing not on the negatives (“this is a difficult spot”) or the positives (“I can get out of this jam”), but instead on the specific steps needed to generate a favorable outcome. Matz has drawn concepts from people ranging from movie star Matthew McConaughey to boxer Mike Tyson, football coach Nick Saban and, in particular, NFL quarterback Russell Wilson.

When Moawad first began using Wilson as an example for him to follow, Matz assumed the quarterback’s cool under pressure was a natural ability. Once he learned it’s something Wilson works on no differently than he does weight training or playbook study, Matz began realizing that he, too, could improve that aspect of his game.

He believes it’s helped. In the past, Matz says, an eight-run outing might have been enough to put him in a funk for weeks. Now? Just six days later, he has a win against a division rival in his pocket.

“It happens,” Matz said. “I was confident that I would be able to bounce back, and that’s what I did.”

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.