NEW YORK -- After a career-high 120 pitches against the D-backs on Tuesday, Steven Matz walked over to Mets manager Terry Collins with a simple message: "I needed that." After having battled inconsistencies over his previous few starts, something had finally seemed to click.
On Sunday, the left-hander put it all together, turning in the best start of his career in the Mets' 5-1 victory over the Padres at Citi Field. Matz fired 7 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before giving up a single to Alexei Ramirez that put an end to his day.
"He came to me and said, 'I really needed that. I needed to be lengthened out a little bit and I needed to get in some better rhythm,'" Collins said. "Did it help? Maybe. Only he can answer that, but after the first hitter he was outstanding. He made every pitch he had to make."
Matz added: "I think it's good when you get deep into games because you get a little tired and you have to work on things a little more. You have to have better command of your pitches because you're not going to have the same life you had early on, so I think that does help you a lot."
The same 120-pitch outing that helped Matz break out of his recent slump may have cost him a chance at a no-hitter if he were able to get through that eighth inning. Sitting at 104 pitches before delivering that 94.3-mph sinker that Ramirez roped just inside the bag down the first-base line, Collins had already begun contemplating whether to keep him in or not.
"Because of my background in player development, I can't stop looking at the big picture," Collins said. "I'm not going to sacrifice this kid's next year for one more inning, especially when you know he's getting tired.
"I didn't have any particular number in mind that I was going to shut him down at, I was just going to read the situation."
For a while, Matz had been a different pitcher than the one he was to start the season. Starting the year with seven wins and a 2.36 ERA in his first eight starts seemed more like three years ago than three months ago.
Concerns arose about a bone spur in his left elbow shortly after that early stretch, and from May 31 to Aug. 3, the 25-year-old went 1-7 with a 4.54 ERA.
Over his last two starts, though, Matz has seemingly put all of that behind him, allowing just two runs on six hits over 13 1/3 innings while striking out 17 batters.
"We're watching a really good pitcher unfold in front of our eyes, but today in particular he was really sharp," second baseman Neil Walker said. "He kept us all involved in the game and got a couple of strikeouts. I wish that ball was a couple of inches more to the outside to give him an opportunity, but that wasn't the case."