Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Mets LHP Steven Matz, whose 2017 season ended due to ulnar nerve surgery, is "really excited" with the way his arm has recovered, but he's taking nothing for granted heading in to next season.
"Dealing with failure on a personal level as well as with the team, it was tough," Matz said recently on WOR radio. "I'm not taking anything for granted, even as far as my position coming out of spring training. As far as I'm concerned, I've got to earn my spot."
"This is a really big year for me. I know what I'm capable of."
The surgery Matz had is the same type of surgery Jacob deGrom underwent at the end of 2016.
During the surgery, Matz' ulnar nerve was moved in order to relieve discomfort. He had been pitching through significant pain at times last season, reported Marc Carig of Newsday, who said Matz insisted on pitching through it even though his elbow was swelling up and he had to shorten bullpen sessions and skip others entirely.
"I know Jake came back from the surgery 100 percent and he had a great year last year and felt healthy," Matz said. "I would like to believe that all this has been put in my past."
The 26-year-old Matz, who missed the first two months of the 2017 season due to an arm injury, had a 6.08 ERA (5.02 FIP) and 1.53 WHIP with 48 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings (13 starts).
While pitching through pain in 2017, Matz threw his slider much less (4.3 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in 2016) in order to reduce the stress on his elbow. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate decresead dramatically, as he struck out 6.48 per 9 innings -- down from 8.77 in 2016.
DeGrom's fastball velocity when he was pitching hurt in 2016 was 93.4 MPH, down from 95 MPH in 2015. In 2017, after returning from surgery and having a regular Spring Training, deGrom's average fastball velocity was 95.2 MPH and he struck out 239 batters in 201 1/3 innings -- a career-high rate of 10.68 per 9. By comparison, Matz' average fastball velocity was 93.1 MPH this season, down from 93.6 MPH in 2016 and 94.3 MPH in 2015.
When healthy, Matz has shown immense potential. He had a 2.27 ERA (3.61 FIP) and 1.23 WHIP while striking out 34 batters in 35 2/3 innings during his rookie season in 2015. In 2016, Matz had a 3.40 ERA (3.39 FIP) and 1.21 WHIP while striking out 129 in 132 1/3 innings.
Finding out when Matz' elbow discomfort began (and whether he experienced the same type of numbness as deGrom did in 2016) would've been instructive, especially if this is something that had been bothering him dating back to 2016. But it's fair to believe that Matz' performance in 2017 was an aberration that was due in large part to him pitching through pain for the majority of the season.
Why the Mets let Matz pitch through pain for that long is another question. And while recovery from any surgery is never a given, Matz and Mets fans can draw a hopeful parallel with deGrom, who was largely dominant this past season after returning from the same surgery Matz is about to return from.