John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE - Steven Matz knew the question was coming practically before I could ask it at his locker on Tuesday morning.
"What did you think about the Yankees…"
"Fake news," he said with a smile, cutting me off. "It's not something I'm worried about."
Matz did admit his phone blew up after the New York Post's report on Monday of the Yankees contacting the Mets about interest in trading for the left-hander from Long Island, but he said he took it all in stride.
"I understand the New York media and I think Brodie (Van Wagenen) would contact me if anything actually was going to happen," Matz said. "So I didn't acknowledge it much."
As it turned out, perhaps there's nothing to it. In Tampa on Tuesday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said that he hadn't reached out to any team looking for pitching help in the wake of injuries to James Paxton and Luis Severino.
In truth, it wouldn't make sense for the Mets to consider such a trade. The whole idea of signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha was to create some starting pitching depth, since they have little in their upper minors, and trading any of the starters at this point would leave them vulnerable to injury.
Still, the jolt of trade talk added to what was already a bit of a weird spring for Matz. After making 30 starts in each of the last two seasons, putting his string of injury woes behind him, he suddenly finds himself in competition for a spot in the rotation due to the additions of Porcello and Wacha.
At least that seems to be the case, with reports the Mets are looking for ways to be creative in potentially using both Wacha and Matz as starters, depending on matchups. And a team source said "there has been conversation" in the front office about making Matz a reliever, with some liking the idea of having a left-hander in the bullpen.
Matz, for his part, seems to be handling all of this with the right mindset. He didn't take the opportunity to complain when I suggested he'd earned a spot in the rotation, but he made it clear, as he heads toward turning 29 in May, that staying healthy the last two seasons have put him on a course for more success.
"I feel like I had pretty good seasons the last two seasons, but personally I feel like the best is yet to come," Matz said. "I feel like I'm improving every year. So I'm excited about going out and pitching this year.
"I've asked about my situation and they've told me I'm a starter right now, so I'm building up toward that, just plugging along, and I'll let the rest take care of itself."
Matz has pitched to ERA's of 3.97 and 4.21 the last two seasons, and a handful of clunkers in 2019 skewed his numbers a bit in what was otherwise his most consistent season, as he pitched a career-high 160 innings.
So while he may not have expected to be put in a position to compete for a spot, Matz said he's fine with it, in a sense, because he came to camp with a mindset that he wanted to do more than just get himself ready for the season.
In fact, he cited Nationals star Max Scherzer, famous for his intensity on the mound, as someone he's trying to emulate, even in spring training.
"I came in with the mindset that I cared about the results, and not just because there's a competition (for a spot)," he said. "I just think, you hear about guys like Scherzer, he comes in ready to rock. He comes in wanting to challenge hitters, and I think that's a good building block for the season.
"You still work on things, but at the end of the day it helps me to have that competitive mindset."
Intensity has never been a problem for Matz. If anything, he has had to learn how to control his emotion to prevent innings from blowing up on him, but he clearly admires the Scherzer method, even in spring training.
"I've heard him talk about it," Matz said. "I think that's something that could help me be a little more consistent. That's what I want, just a little more consistency."
This spring hasn't been that for Matz. In fact, it was only 9 a.m. on Tuesday as I spoke to Matz, yet he was getting dressed, having been sent home by the medical staff because he has some type of cold or flu.
"Not a good day," he said. "But they'll get better."