It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at a list of the top prospects such as Keith Law’s (Insider only) on ESPN or Baseball America’s, and see those players as proven commodities. This year it’s been especially easy when you consider that Law’s top four are Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Addison Russell. Bryant is currently 12th in the NL in fWAR; Russell is holding his own with the bat while providing a solid glove; Correa would be third on the Mets in fWAR (in 20 games) and nearly hit for the cycle the other night; and Buxton was doing okay, not great, in his brief 11 game major league career before being sidelined for a month with a sprained thumb. Throw in the success of Joey Gallo and Noah Syndergaard, and it’s easy to forget that sometimes prospects don’t make it.
So as we process what we saw yesterday afternoon at Citi Field, remember that what Steven Matz did was something special. Maybe we’re spoiled in this, the Year of the Prospect, as though we should be seeing a cartoon drawing of screaming baseball on some Chinese restaurant placemat somewhere: “The prospect is young, energetic, full of confidence and potential. Prospects prefer to roam in large, outdoor venues and are comfortable in crowds. Silence is their enemy. The prospect’s lucky numbers are 3 and 95, and they do not work well with snakes. When life throws you a curve, hit it to Waveland Avenue.”
To Mets fans, Matz has sort of existed in this in-between place. He’s both the promise of a dominant rotation, a guy that can slot in somewhere behind Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom as potential staff aces, but he’s also been the “prospect” most discussed in trades. He’ll either pitch the team to eek out 2-1 victories or he’ll bring a bat that helps the team in the hear and now. It’s all in how you think: now or the future.
The game didn’t start so well. Matz’s first pitch sailed Ricky Vaughn style high and outside to Brandon Phillips, went 3-0 to the Reds leadoff hitter, and then watched as the kid who never allowed home runs, even in the Pacific Coast League, grooved a mid-90s fastball and Phillips connected for his fifth home run of the year.
Of course he’s just nervous. Still. You think Theo Epstein is taking calls?
Matz responded as all 24-year old kids making their Major League debut do, he snapped off a curveball to Joey Votto and then got the four-time All Star to ground out to Wilmer Flores at second. Todd Frazier and his 24 home runs (would be 25 after he crushed a Matz offering in the fourth) came next and popped up.
Ron Darling made an interesting comment during the game, stating that this might be the only time a review of a home run helped a pitcher to settle down. It seemed to. If Phillips home run was actually a single (it hit the black railing above the left field fence) maybe things turn out differently. Votto works a walk perhaps, and then Frazier deposits one into the upper deck down left field.
Welcome home, rookie.
On the game Matz tossed 7 2/3 innings on 110 pitches (I’ll come back to that). He allowed five hits, three walks, and struck out six. The two runs given up were on home runs, which is odd only because it was the one thing we were told he didn’t do. But we were also told he could hit. Yeah, he did that too.
Michael Baron over at Just Mets does a nice job of giving the particulars, but here’s the one that sort of blew me away: Matz is only the 11th player, and first pitcher, to ever record at least three hits and drive in four in their debut. If you think about that, in one game, Matz drove in two fewer runs than Michael Cuddyer has in the entire month of June. Matz blasted a ball to deep center in his first at-bat, executed a perfect hit-and-run (after a failed sacrifice bunt, but whatever) in his second, then hit a line drive over Phillips outstretched glove in his third. The Mets had entered Sunday’s scheduled game having a streak of six straight games where they’d scored two or fewer runs and Matz eclipsed that by himself.
If you’re going to earn a win, take matters into your own hands, kid.
I was surprised to see Terry Collins allow Matz to pitch the eighth. The SNY crew seemed equally surprised, and I’ve been thinking about it for a bit. The other day, I blasted Matt Williams for needlessly leaving Max Scherzer in too long and this seems like a similar case. Matz was at 100 pitches after seven, had just capped off an amazing afternoon by striking out Jason Bourgeois, and was up 6-2.
Why bring him out for another inning?
The Mets were basically finishing off the second game of a double-header (they’d completed Saturday’s game prior to Matz’s debut). The bullpen had worked seven innings already. Any extra outs Matz could provide would be huge. Also, Matz didn’t look gassed. We too often freak out about pitch counts. As though limiting innings and pitch counts is making pitchers healthier (maybe, since the rate of serious shoulder injuries seems to be down but we’re still seeing Tommy John surgeries at an alarming rate). Scherzer was coming off back-to-back complete games (both near perfect games) and had worked into the sixth on Friday with another no-hitter, and he looked physically and emotionally spent. There’s a difference. I also think with an off-day on Monday and the Mets now once again flirting with this six-man rotation, Collins could extend Matz out a few more pitches.
It was day like we’d never seen before. Let the local kid enjoy it.