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Matz gaining in race for last rotation spot

Lefty works 4 1/3 innings, making adjustment after rocky 1st
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

JUPITER, Fla. -- For the better part of an inning, Steven Matz lit fire to the opportunity set before him on a picturesque Wednesday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Competing for a rotation job, Matz threw nine of his first 13 pitches out of the strike zone. He walked two Marlins batters to load the bases, gave up two runs and needed more than 30 pitches to escape the inning.

It angered Matz to the extent that he "got mad" and "let it go," retiring the side in order in the second en route to 4 1/3 effective innings against the Marlins. While Matz did not win the Mets' fifth starter's job outright in a 5-1 loss to Miami, he looked markedly better than Zack Wheeler, who surrendered five runs on three innings a night earlier.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- For the better part of an inning, Steven Matz lit fire to the opportunity set before him on a picturesque Wednesday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Competing for a rotation job, Matz threw nine of his first 13 pitches out of the strike zone. He walked two Marlins batters to load the bases, gave up two runs and needed more than 30 pitches to escape the inning.

It angered Matz to the extent that he "got mad" and "let it go," retiring the side in order in the second en route to 4 1/3 effective innings against the Marlins. While Matz did not win the Mets' fifth starter's job outright in a 5-1 loss to Miami, he looked markedly better than Zack Wheeler, who surrendered five runs on three innings a night earlier.

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Although the Mets claim that Jason Vargas, Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Matz and Wheeler are all competing for rotation spots behind Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, team insiders say the reality is less scattered. Barring injury, Vargas and Harvey will slot into the rotation in some order. And the club has already tipped its hand on Gsellman and Lugo, who are shortening out as relievers at the same time their teammates are beginning to pitch deep into games.

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That leaves Matz and Wheeler for one spot, which looks increasingly earmarked for the former.

"It's in the back of my mind, but I just have to keep working," Matz said. "Even if I had a guaranteed spot in the rotation, it wouldn't change how I work. I'm just trying to be the best pitcher I can, and if it's good enough to help the team win, then that's great."

While Wheeler's 6.75 spring ERA is still better than Matz's 10.80 mark, the gap between them is closing. Since giving up 10 runs over his first 1 2/3 innings this spring, Matz has pitched to a 2.16 ERA. Following his rocky first inning Wednesday, Matz said he began to "feel like myself out there."

"I just felt like I was trying to find it the first inning, instead of letting it go and trusting my stuff," Matz said. "I was trying to be too fine. I had a great bullpen before the game, was feeling really good. Then I got a hitter in there, it's like I was trying to make the perfect pitch instead of just trusting it, and having conviction in what I had out there."

Video: NYM@MIA: Callaway on Matz's start, evaluating arms

Wheeler has demonstrated no such ability to make adjustments, allowing multiple runs in two of his three innings Tuesday against the Astros. Afterward, Wheeler said "all I can worry about is staying healthy and pitching, getting ahead of guys" -- something he struggled to do while issuing his first two walks of the spring.

It's not an enviable position; with both Gsellman and Lugo converting to relief, it appears one of Matz and Wheeler will head to Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season. Neither wants to be that guy, even if the Mets know they're better for the competition.

"It's going to be a fluid situation anyway once you get into the season," manager Mickey Callaway said. "We're not going to use five starters all year, so it really doesn't matter who breaks camp. In my experience, the guy that breaks camp usually doesn't stay in the big leagues as long as the guy who doesn't."

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

New York Mets, Steven Matz