WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Many Mets have lauded new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner’s technological knowledge. It would be meaningless, though, if he were not able to communicate the technology’s findings and help his pitchers apply them.
Steven Matz and Hefner might have found something that could help the left-hander moving forward. Through the aforementioned technology, which the Mets are big on using with pitchers, Hefner found that Matz’s four-seam fastball actually has more run than his two-seamer.
“We’re trying to get the ball more true,” Matz said.
The left-hander felt their work paid off on Saturday, when he threw two scoreless innings in which he only allowed a hit — which came on a ball Brandon Nimmo misplayed in center field. Matz struck out one but did not walk any in the Mets’ 2-1 win over the Houston Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Whereas the two-seam fastball can feature movement, pitchers usually want their four-seamer to be straight. Matz said, for the most part, the issue stemmed because of his grip on the pitch.
This spring, Matz might be playing for something extra. He’s of course readying for the season, but the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation remains up for grabs.
The team has not officially declared Matz a part of its starting rotation. Past the obvious members of rotation — Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman —it seems anything can happen.
“Really I’m just looking at getting my work in,” said Matz, who on Saturday threw 32 pitches, 19 for strikes. “Right now, I’m a starter building up as a starter. I’m just trying to get better every day. We’ve got a lot of really good pitchers in camp, so that’s a great thing for us looking toward our goal of winning a World Series. Not looking at it as a competition, but whatever I can do right now to be the best I can be and help the team this season.”
On Tuesday, Michael Wacha — signed to a one-year deal over the offseason — said he was told he is a starter. Rick Porcello, who also signed a one-year contract in December, is the other man in the competition.
Put simply: There are six starters for five spots. When the Mets brought in Wacha and Porcello, it seemed those two were competing to be the fifth starter.
But is Matz competing for a spot?
Asked this, manager Luis Rojas said: “We have a lot of depth on our roster. That’s one of the great things we have in camp. He’s one of our six starters that we’re stretching out right now, and we’ll call it seven (with prospect David Peterson included).
Matz was inconsistent last season. He notched a 3.40 ERA over 22 starts in 2016, but has not matched it since.
Matz said the situation has not made things awkward between him and his possible competitors.
“I think we all get along great,” Matz said. “We all know we have a great team, especially with our pitching. ...We’ve got a great bunch of guys in here and it’s just fun to be part of a great staff.”
This week, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported that the Mets are mulling solutions for the fifth-starter spot. One is an opener, which is when a pitcher “starts” a game but only pitches one or two innings before an actual starting pitcher — or someone who can pitch longer — enters the game.
Would Matz be open to an opener pitching before him or does he believe a starting pitcher should actually start the game?
“I think I’m a little bit more of a starting pitcher starts games,” he said. “But whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not really going to complain about it. Whatever they decide. Right now, they told me I’m a starter, so I’m going in as a starter and we’ll see what happens. I kind of like a starter starting a game — it’s my preference — but we’ll see.”
Mind you, the Mets have not used an opener in Matz’s time with the club. He does not know how they would do so. He is accustomed to his current routine between outings and on start days, which could affect his opinion.
The Mets, Rojas said, have not considered using an opener.
“We haven’t defined roles,” he said. “We’re not even close to getting to that point. We have guys that have the ability to start, and we’re stretching them out. And we have guys that are probably going to be in our bullpen. They’re coming in later and are going to do the one-inning thing.”
All spring, the Mets have declined to define roles — or at least publicly. But until something is said, the back of the rotation will continue to be a storyline.
The inflammation in J.D. Davis’ left shoulder is decreasing, Rojas said. The outfielder/infielder is going to perform certain exercises with the performance staff and might be back to baseball activities in the next few days.
“Everything is progressing for him as well,” Rojas said. “No timeline yet, but we’ll reassess it probably next week. But it’s good news. Every day, better news with him.”
There were a lot of Mets fans here on Saturday. Want to know how you can tell?
Every time George Springer went to the plate, there were boos. Springer and Yuli Gurriel were the only 2017 Astros in the lineup on Saturday.
Those two and their teammates will probably hear many more boos throughout the season — and maybe beyond.