Steven Matz Could Make 2016 Mets Rotation Truly Special

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Steven Matz Could Make 2016 Mets Rotation Truly Special
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

It was hard to call Steven Matz the key to the New York Mets rotation on a day when Matt Harvey went to the doctor and the team wouldn't say what was wrong with him.

The Harvey mystery was solved Tuesday morning, and the brief scare ended with his announcement that he had a bladder infection that led to a blood clot. He's now healthy enough to start the Mets' Sunday night opener in Kansas City, so we'll go back to the assumption that Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will be the dominant starting pitchers they've already shown they can be.

And we'll go back to the idea that Matz can be a key. He's the guy who can push this group beyond strong and all the way to special.

Matz has already pitched in a World Series, but he has made just six regular-season major league starts. He's had some magical moments but doesn't yet have the track record to be considered a sure thing.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Manager Terry Collins and Steven Matz.

When he began spring training with an 8.31 ERA through four appearances, there was natural concern. When he rebounded with 5.2 strong innings Sunday against the Washington Nationals, there was natural relief.

As Keith Hernandez said on Mets television Sunday: "He has a lot to prove. It's like it's his rookie season."

It is his rookie season.

He's not established yet, the way Harvey and deGrom and even Syndergaard are. But the strength of the Mets is the depth of the young starting talent, a group that will also include Zack Wheeler when he returns from Tommy John surgery sometime this summer.

Add in Matz at his best, and the Mets have a rotation with five incredibly talented young arms.

Also, as one scout said Monday, Matz can be a perfect complement to the other four.

"For one thing, he's left-handed," the scout said. "He gives you a contrast with all those power right-handers."

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
The left-handed Matz (left) gives the Mets a nice contrast to right-handed power pitchers Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey (shown with catcher Travis d'Arnaud).

The scout expressed some confidence Matz will get there, but how fast he does depends on how he develops the command of his fastball. Matz throws hard enough (he was 93-94 mph regularly Sunday, topping out at 96), but he has a tendency to see his pitch count rise and his innings limited.

"He's a five-inning guy right now," the scout said. "But that happens sometimes with young guys. When [Clayton] Kershaw came up, he was five innings, 100 pitches."

No one is saying Matz is going to turn into Kershaw, but he doesn't need to be. The problem is that if he's still a five-inning guy this year, he'll put more pressure on what looks like the shakiest part of the Mets' team—a questionable middle-relief staff.

Even late last season and into the postseason, the Mets had concerns about how they would get the ball to closer Jeurys Familia. Those concerns haven't gone away, with manager Terry Collins telling reporters this week that he was bothered by the relievers' lower velocities.

That concern was quickly overshadowed, though, by the news of Harvey's visit to the doctor.

On Monday, the Mets would say only that Harvey's problem wasn't baseball-related. Mets beat writers quoted sources as saying it wasn't "major," but the team scratched him from his final scheduled spring training start and left open the possibility he wouldn't be ready for Opening Day.

On Tuesday, Harvey explained to reporters (probably in more detail than you want or need) that it began as a problem with his urine. He also said, as Adam Rubin wrote on ESPN.com, "everything is fine now."

Everything is fine, except that with pitchers, there's always a danger of more trouble ahead. Pitching is fragile, as the Mets know all too well.

Harvey needed Tommy John surgery in 2013, and Wheeler needed it last spring. Matz began his major league career with two successful starts, and then spent two months on the disabled list with a torn lat muscle.

Matz also has Tommy John surgery on his resume, needing the elbow reconstruction in May 2010, less than a year after the Mets drafted him out of Ward Melville High School in Long Island. He didn't make his official pro debut until the middle of the 2012 season.

He made his major league debut last June, more than a year after his high school friend and rival, Marcus Stroman, debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Stroman is now the Jays' Opening Day starter, the guy counted on to lead the staff after David Price left for big money in Boston. The Mets don't need Matz to be that.

He's the No. 4 or 5 starter if everyone is healthy, but the nice part for the Mets is that he has a chance to be much better than a typical No. 4 or No. 5. He could be right up there with the others, which is why the Mets rotation could be right up there above everyone else's.

So much depends on health, as Mets fans were reminded Monday as they waited for more news on Harvey. Now they've survived that scare, and the task of making this Mets rotation truly special depends in significant part on Steven Matz.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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