ST. LOUIS -- When Matt Harvey expressed his displeasure last weekend at being demoted to the bullpen, he clarified that he was as upset with himself as he was with the Mets. Even a modicum of success might have been enough to keep Harvey starting games, he knows, considering the state of the team's rotation.
A day after Zack Wheeler gave up four runs in four innings, Steven Matz allowed seven (three earned) over 3 1/3 innings in a 9-1 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday. Over their past six games, Mets starters are 0-2 with a 5.64 ERA. Without the contributions of Jacob deGrom, who delivered seven scoreless innings in his last outing, that number would rise to 7.33.
"We all know they have the stuff," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "The thing that separates [Max] Scherzer from anybody else is his mentality, not his stuff. … It's the mentality that's going to make you a consistent pitcher."
Unhappy with what he saw from Matz during the middle innings, Callaway would not commit to another start for him -- just as he declined to commit last week to Harvey, before moving him to the bullpen. Callaway said the Mets' staff will "sit down and talk to Matz, and figure out exactly how we can help him."
"Everybody makes their start, until we tell them that they're not," Callaway added.
Perhaps this should be unsurprising for a team that finished 27th in the Majors in rotation ERA last season. Yet the Mets believed health could solve that issue -- particularly for pitchers such as Wheeler and Matz, who have been frequent disabled-list residents throughout their careers.
So far, health hasn't solved much. Callaway continually refers to Matz's primary issue as a lack of conviction, though in reality, it may just be a lack of control. While Matz's defense did him no favors in the third and fourth innings, he added to the Cardinals' rallies by walking two batters -- one with the bases loaded -- and hitting another. Combined with three errors, it was more than enough for the Cardinals to capitalize. Marcell Ozuna hit a two-run single in the third, Kolten Wong added an RBI hit in the fourth and by that point, the Cards were well on their way.
"The game just kind of sped up there on me," Matz said. "I'm really frustrated. I want to go out there and pitch well, and I'm not doing that."
Jay Bruce's broken-bat flare in the third provided the Mets' only run against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who struck out eight over six innings. Corey Oswalt saved the Mets' bullpen in his big league debut, pitching 4 2/3 innings of two-run relief. But that was a minor consolation for a team with growing rotation issues.
"I don't think it's surprising. These guys haven't pitched in a long time," Callaway said. "I don't deal with expectations. I deal with what I see."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Matz can't escape jam: An infield hit, an error, a walk and a sacrifice fly gave the Cardinals the game-tying run in the third. But even after all that and a Jose Martinez single, Matz had a chance to escape the inning relatively unscathed. Facing the slumping Ozuna, Matz threw two curveballs and a sinker, before returning to the curve. Ozuna didn't miss it, ripping it into left field for a two-run single that gave the Cardinals the lead.
After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, Mets first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is in an 0-for-11 slump that has dropped his average from .256 to .204. Going back further, Gonzalez has a .111/.188/.222 slash line over his last eight games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Earlier this month, the Mets called Oswalt up for one game to serve as bullpen depth, sending him back down without giving him a chance to debut. They recalled the rookie a second time on Saturday, then -- in part because of a rainout and an off-day -- went four days without using him.
When Oswalt finally took the mound for his big league debut, he did so with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, generating three straight ground balls to get the Mets back to the dugout. Oswalt allowed Jedd Gyorko's two-run homer the next inning, but settled down to retire 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.
"It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life," said Oswalt, who plans to give the game ball to his parents. "I was pretty amped going in there. But yeah, I enjoyed it."
Callaway said that Oswalt will stay on the roster for at least another day or two, giving him a chance to travel with the team to his hometown. The Mets open a three-game set this weekend in San Diego, where Oswalt and his fiancee live.
HE SAID IT
"I always have an urgency to get better, so that's what I'm going to keep doing, no matter where I am. I'm going to want to pitch well. That's just the main focus, is to get back on track." -- Matz, on ongoing struggles
Although the Mets are 5-0 in games Noah Syndergaard has started, he said after his last one that "I feel like I've had some pretty dominant stuff, but haven't done much dominating." Syndergaard looks to start meeting his own outsized expectations Thursday in the 1:15 p.m. ET series finale at Busch Stadium, starting opposite right-hander Carlos Martinez in a rematch of Opening Day.