PHILADELPHIA -- Since the calendar flipped to August, the Mets' rotation has begun to resemble what the team once believed it could be. Jacob deGrom remains Jacob deGrom, one of baseball's best pitchers. Zack Wheeler has developed into a worthy sidekick. Slowly, Noah Syndergaard has returned to form, while Corey Oswalt has emerged as an intriguing rookie. Even Jason Vargas is fresh off one of his best starts of the season.
Then there is Steven Matz, who, until Thursday's 9-6 loss to the Phillies in Game 2 of a doubleheader, had not pitched in August. Sidelined due to a strained left flexor-pronator muscle, Matz returned to Citizens Bank Park looking much the same as before he left. The left-hander allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits, serving up a three-run homer to Rhys Hoskins and lasting merely two innings.
"It was just rough out there tonight," Matz said.
The loss dampened the mood of a Mets club full of confidence after Game 1, which it won, 24-4, while setting a franchise record for runs. All told, the Mets had scored 40 runs in a 24-hour span.
They seemed bent on continuing that success when they rapped out three consecutive doubles to open Game 2, with Michael Conforto's driving home two runs. But Phillies starter Zach Eflin did not allow anything else until the seventh.
By that time, Matz was long gone from the game, having allowed Hoskins' three-run homer, Scott Kingery's solo shot and two other unearned runs. Limited to a hard cap of 80 pitches in his first start back from the DL, Matz used up 58 of them in two innings, prompting Mets manager Mickey Callaway to remove him from the game at that point.
"He looked really rusty," Callaway said. "He was battling himself all night. The pitch count got up. We didn't feel like [the injury] he came off of, it was very smart to send him back out for a third inning."
Thus continued a troubling run for Matz, who has posted a 13.17 ERA over his last three starts. Both he and the Mets insist he is healthy, with Matz going as far as to say he could have pitched through his latest injury. But Matz has been on the disabled list five times in the last four seasons, undergone two surgeries and, when able-bodied, has mostly struggled. Over the last 13 months, Matz is 5-15 with a 5.74 ERA.
"I just didn't have a good feel out there today," Matz said. "Ultimately, I felt healthy, so I'm taking that as a positive. But I have a lot of work to do to get back to where I was before the All-Star break."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Starting strong: The Mets stretched their record-setting offensive stretch to 42 runs in less than 25 hours when Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil and Conforto doubled in succession to open the game. Rosario in particular has thrived in the past four games, going 9-for-20 with two leadoff homers (including one in Game 1), two doubles, two stolen bases, six RBIs and eight runs. But Conforto never advanced past second, and the Mets didn't score again until Rosario doubled home Jack Reinheimer with one out in the seventh.
"I'm working on my strike zone, and taking advantage of being a leadoff guy in the lineup," Rosario said through an interpreter. "I'm taking more at-bats every game, so I'm working hard every day to take advantage of that."
Whiffing on a 94-mph Eflin fastball in the fifth, McNeil struck out for the first time in 44 plate appearances. That was the longest active streak in MLB -- but only because fellow Mets infielder Luis Guillorme, who has gone 52 consecutive big league plate appearances without a strikeout, is currently in the Minors.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Rookie reliever Bobby Wahl tweaked his right hamstring fielding Roman Quinn's bunt single in the sixth. Although the Mets' training staff allowed Wahl to remain in the game to finish the inning, facing four more batters, the team plans to send him for testing on Friday.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
• Trailing by five runs in the sixth, the Mets appeared to catch a break when center fielder Austin Jackson made a lunging catch to snare Nick Williams' liner with a man on second and two outs. But the Phillies challenged, successfully contending that the ball bounced off the grass before nestling in Jackson's glove. After a replay review, umpires awarded Williams an RBI single.
• While Williams got stuck in a second-inning pickle between first and second base, Cesar Hernandez took off for home plate from third. He slid in to swipe his hand across the tip of the plate, but the Mets challenged. Replay confirmed that Hernandez did indeed beat the tag while still getting a piece of home to score.
HE SAID IT
"To see Rosario continue to blossom is really fun, and all the energy that he's bringing. It's good when you see those guys improving." -- Callaway
The first of two dynamic pitching matchups between the Mets and Phillies will take place on Friday, when Noah Syndergaard faces right-hander Aaron Nola in a 6:05 p.m. ET game at Citizens Bank Park. Arguably one of the National League's three best starters this season, Nola has already beaten the Mets twice this season. The MLB Now crew is also calling an alternative broadcast of the game, as Brian Kenny, Joe Girardi, Jon Heyman and Mike Petriello do a deep stats dive on MLB Network.