Brandon Phillips, for some reason batting leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds, offered a rude welcome to the big leagues for New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz. He smashed a line drive home run to left center. From that point on, Matz was magnificent.
Over the past four seasons, the New York Mets have graduated some exciting pitching prospects. The quartet of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard have the Flushing faithful drooling with excitement – if only the Mets could hit. Sunday the Mets rolled out another talented young pitcher in Matz and may have solved their hitting problem in the process.
For New York Mets fans, the debut of Matz has been long-anticipated. Drafted out of Ward Melville High School on the North Shore of Long Island in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLB Draft, the now 24-year-old Matz has had an incredible journey to the major leagues. After just barely signing before the deadline and then undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2010 before ever throwing a professional pitch, Matz suffered several setbacks in the recovery process that delayed his professional debut until the 2012 season, when he made six starts for the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League.
He pitched well in the limited audition there, then pitched well again in 2013 with the Savannah Sand Gnats, and again in 2014 splitting the season between Hi-A and Double-A. The nightmarish rehab process behind him, Matz earned the number-33 overall preseason ranking from both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. As Matz dominated the competition in the Pacific Coast League and Dillon Gee routinely stunk, calls for Matz’s promotion grew louder until June 25th, when word came down that he was getting the call up.
Six years of waiting for both Mets and Matz fans came to an end on Sunday, when Matz took the hill against the Reds. Matz gave up two runs on five hits in 7.2 innings pitched, striking out six and recording the win in his MLB debut. At the plate, Matz went 3-3 with a double and four runs batted in. No pitchers have done that in their debut in the last 100 years.
After a jittery 21-pitch first inning, which included the Phillips home run, Matz settled down and came into his own. His fastball sat 95-96 mph, and his curveball had a nice, tight spin to keep hitters off balance. Here’s how Matz’s debut compares with that of the other recent Mets top pitching prospects to debut:
By the very preliminary numbers, Matz is in good company with the rest of his young rotation-mates, but out of all of them he probably was the most impressive. After that turbulent first inning, Matz was able to maintain his poise on the mound and pitch well. Given a rough open, many young players allow that to snowball, but not Matz. His maturity on the mound showed well on Sunday.
The scouting reports were also correct when talking about Matz’s ability to hit, as his three hits were all well-struck, including a long double over the head of Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton. His third hit, a two-run single, gave us the top sports gif of the year, courtesy of his grandfather.
That celebration is as good of a recap of a debut called by SNY analyst Ron Darling, "The most impressive debut I’ve ever seen," as any. It truly was a historic night for Matz, and one he won’t soon forget.
Joe Vasile is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He is the Assistant General Manager and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League.