NEW YORK -- Depending on the hour, the Mets are either trading Noah Syndergaard or keeping him. Zack Wheeler is definitely gone … or might the Mets extend him? Jason Vargas, now there’s a pitcher clearly on his way out of Flushing, unless of course the Mets don’t receive a fair offer for his services.
All that drama will sort itself out one way or the other in the next three days, without much discernable effect on Steven Matz. No matter what happens to his fellow rotation members before the July 31 Trade Deadline, Matz will be a Met for the foreseeable future. So team officials must have been encouraged watching Matz, mere weeks removed from a temporary bullpen demotion, throw a 99-pitch shutout Saturday in a 3-0 win over the Pirates at Citi Field.
“Honestly, this is what I try to do every game,” Matz said of his first career complete game. “I finally did it.”
When Matz walked off the mound after eight innings and just 89 pitches, the Citi Field crowd serenaded him for a job well done. But Matz was not done. Operating under a soft pitch count of around 110, Matz conferred briefly with pitching coach Phil Regan in the dugout.
“How you doing?” Regan asked him.
“I’m doing great,” Matz replied.
“I knew at that point,” Matz said afterward, “they’d send me back out.”
A line-drive single to open the ninth did little to slow Matz, who retired Melky Cabrera on a flyout and Starling Marte on a punchout. His 99th pitch was a changeup that Josh Bell rolled to shortstop for the game’s final out.
The result was what pitching junkies refer to as a “Maddux” -- a nod to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who threw 14 shutouts of fewer than 100 pitches in his career. No Met had thrown one since Johan Santana in 2012, and only six Mets starters had accomplished the feat since pitch counts became a widely tracked statistic in 1988.
Matz became the seventh via the finest performance of his career. Benefiting from a strike zone wide enough to earn Pirates manager Clint Hurdle a first-inning ejection, Matz racked up a quartet of called third strikes over the game’s first four innings. But it was Matz’s ability to generate ground balls with a steady diet of sinkers and sliders that allowed him to keep his pitch count low. He generated 14 groundouts in all, including two double plays.
“We tried to get a good pitch,” Pirates third baseman Jose Osuna said. “He was throwing curveballs, changeups, cutters, sliders, fastballs. We had to pick one and try to put a good swing on the ball.”
Pittsburgh’s inability to do so was a credit to Matz, whom the Mets supported with a Michael Conforto solo homer in the sixth inning and a J.D. Davis two-run shot in the seventh, both off Pirates starter Trevor Williams.
That Matz needed only a fraction of that support was difficult to predict, considering the depth of his struggles as recently as last month. As the All-Star break approached, the Mets went as far as to put Matz in the bullpen, essentially giving him a two-week break from starting games.
In three outings since his return to the rotation, Matz is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA, 15 strikeouts and two walks, including the finest start of his career.
“To do it in 99 pitches is something else,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “That was tremendous. That was unbelievable. We really needed him to do that.”
When Davis showed up to Citi Field on Saturday, he found his name on the lineup card only because his teammate and close friend, Dominic Smith, had gone on the injured list with a stress reaction in his left foot. Davis called the uptick in playing time he’s about to experience “bittersweet,” though that did not stop him from capitalizing on it.
In the fifth inning, Davis doubled, and in the seventh, he hit a two-run homer to seal the Mets’ win. Afterward, Callaway said Davis “will get a lot of playing time going forward.”
“To see him go down, it hurts all of us,” Davis said of Smith. “But … we’ve just got to step up our game.”