Steven Matz came to Spring Training looking to put his disappointing 2020 season in the rearview mirror. So far, so good.
The left-hander took another step toward that goal on Saturday, throwing five innings of one-run ball in the Blue Jays’ 3-1 win over the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. Matz allowed five hits and struck out six, continuing his walkless spring by not handing out a free pass.
“It's definitely good to get results in Spring Training,” Matz said. “The big thing for me early is just commanding all the pitches; when you can command all your pitches, you just feel more confident that you can throw a pitch in any count. I definitely think I'm confident.”
Matz’s confidence appeared to take a big hit last season, thanks to a 9.68 ERA that led to his removal from the Mets’ rotation. The 29-year-old was traded to Toronto on Jan. 27, giving him a chance for the fresh start he needed.
“He’s been outstanding,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He's got the tools; he’s got the arm. Sometimes the change of scenery will do wonders for people, and he could be one of those.”
Pitching in a tight game Saturday, Matz’s lone jam came in the fourth as Roman Quinn led off with a single, stole second, then scored on Bryce Harper’s one-out double. But unlike last season, when a similar situation typically led to a big inning for his opponent, Matz locked in and retired Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius, limiting the Phillies to just one run.
“I was kind of waiting to see what was going to happen, because he's been so good the whole time; he had a little struggle, let’s see how he’s going to react,” Montoyo said. “He reacted well and did a nice job coming back and getting people out.”
In three starts this spring, Matz has allowed one run over 10 innings, giving up seven hits and striking out 12.
Bo Bichette’s spring at-bats hadn’t produced many hits entering Saturday, as he opened the day just 4-for-23 (.174) in 10 games. The shortstop had his most productive day of the spring against the Phillies, going 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, a run scored and an RBI.
“I wouldn't say that I've been right, but I’ve felt pretty good the whole time,” Bichette said. “I’ve been having good at-bats, hitting the ball hard, but today it was a little bit different, made a little bit better contact. I was happy with today.”
This has been a different kind of spring experience for Bichette, who is going through his first full-length camp as an established big leaguer. His objective in past years was to open some eyes with his spring performance, but he came to Spring Training this year with a new approach.
“The goal this year is just to be ready for Opening Day,” Bichette said. “Every single day, I’ve just been trying to get ready, mentally and physically, with my swing, my thoughts and everything like that. I think it's been pretty good so far.”
Montoyo agreed that spring numbers “don’t matter when you’ve done it in the past,” so Bichette’s slow start hasn’t been a concern for the manager.
“You know he’s going to hit,” Montoyo said. “Some guys are competing for jobs, but for a guy like Bo, the main thing is for him to stay healthy and get at-bats, get ready for the season.”
The day after
Trent Thornton reported no issues after making his first outing of the spring on Friday, a pair of scoreless innings against the Tigers. Thornton is returning from September surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow, and even though his debut didn’t come until March 19, he feels confident that he’ll be ready to go by Opening Day.
“I’ve checked all the boxes,” Thornton said.
Thornton -- who was so anxious Thursday night that he wound up spending most of the night sleeping on his couch -- was pleased with his four strikeouts Friday, each of which came on a different pitch. While his cutter, curveball and fastball were effective as he expected, it was the changeup that had him most excited.
“The changeup has always been that one pitch, kind of my kryptonite,” Thornton said. “I've been very, very pleased with it this whole entire spring; it's been a good swing-and-miss pitch for me and I'm going to continue to utilize that, use it in counts that I should be using it.”
The Blue Jays announced that Thomas Hatch has mild right elbow inflammation, adding that the team continues to gather information. Hatch left his start on Wednesday with elbow and forearm discomfort.
Kirby Yates pitched for the first time since March 11, striking out two Phillies during a scoreless inning in his second outing of the spring.
“He actually wasn't as sharp as he's been in the past, but he struck out two out of three,” Montoyo said. “He did a nice job; he threw strikes, his split was good and he got people out. I’m used to seeing Kirby do that.”
The Blue Jays host the Yankees in Dunedin on Sunday, as Tanner Roark gets the start against New York’s Gerrit Cole. First pitch is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET.