ATLANTA — The crown was a little too big. It didn’t quite sit right on Steven Matz’s head. He’s not quite used to donning the Mets’ player of the game getup, since it’s impossible to earn it down in Port St. Lucie.
But the Mets, and Matz, are hoping he’ll wear the ensemble a little more. Or maybe a lot more, now that he’s returned from his elbow injury. In one start, he handily accomplished the one thing Mets starting pitchers have struggled with the most this season: He worked seven innings.
If you’re keeping track at home, Jacob deGrom is the leader in the clubhouse, having thrown seven or more four times this season. Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman have each done it twice, with Gsellman nearly reaching seven on Saturday morning in the first game of the doubleheader against the Braves, Matt Harvey has done it once and Noah Syndergaard twice but won’t even get the chance to try again for a while.
How was he able to do it? It’s no secret, it’s the same formula for every pitcher: Command.
“He had command of his stuff,” manager Terry Collins said. “He used his changeup several times, he threw those two lefties (Nick Markakis and Matt Adams) 3-2 sliders for strikes, he got out in front. And we know he’s capable of that. Certainly, we saw a team that’s swinging the bats very, very good that took some bad swings against him.”
In his season debut and his first start since he had bone spurs removed in his elbow last fall, Matz held the Braves — who average more than 4.5 runs per game at SunTrust Park — to just a single run on five hits, walked two and struck out three. He said he didn’t feel as though he had his best stuff but he worked with what he had.
“I didn’t really feel like I had my greatest, sharpest stuff today, but I was able to execute pitches,” Matz said. “The defense behind me was playing great. (Second baseman Neil Walker) was diving all over the place.”
It’s unfair to think that the returns of Matz, Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Lugo will save the team, but it was clear that the Mets got better with their returns. In the first game of the day, the defense was dismal but the Mets made up for it with pitching and the one big fly from Cespedes that cleared the fences for a game-changing grand slam in the ninth inning.
In the second, the Mets played quickly and efficiently, something they haven’t been known to do much this season. It was as if they were a little more relaxed and a little more confident on the field.
“It’s big, it was a lift that we needed,” outfielder Jay Bruce said.
If nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction for both the Mets and their entire pitching staff.