Mets LHP Steven Matz pushed himself to pitch through pain, but instead ended up choosing surgery, he recently told James Wagner of the NY Times.
"Ultimately, it was my decision," Matz is quoted as saying. "I wanted to go out there and pitch because I'm so sick of being on the D.L. And I did everything I could."
Matz missed the first two months of this season with what was described as elbow inflammation, the result of which may have been a side effect of the bone spur surgery that ended his 2016.
The MRI he had before the season indicated no structural damage, which is why he said he felt it necessary to push himself through discomfort.
"In my mind, I'm like, 'The MRI. is clean, so this is something I'm going to have to deal with," he explained, according to the report.
Following a strict program of rest, platelet-rich plasma injections, and rehab, Matz made his 2017 debut on June 10, at which point the Mets were already six games under .500.
In his first five starts after returning from the disabled list, Matz went 2-1 with an impressive 2.12 ERA. However, as he struggled during July and August, allowing 37 runs in 32 innings, he suspected he might have been dealing with the same nerve issue that plagued his close friend and teammate, Jacob deGrom, during the previous season.
According to Wagner, Matz requested another exam, at which time it was determined -- like deGrom a year earlier -- that the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow was the cause of the pain and discomfort and would need to be repositioned with season-ending surgery.
"The doctor said the symptoms I was getting were nontypical for nerve problems," he explained, when asked by Wagner why he hadn't reported the issue earlier in the season. "I had no tingling or numbness. ... I didn't feel any pressure from the team (to pitch). Did I feel pressure from myself? Yeah. I want to be out there competing and pitching."
First off, this is terrific, detailed reporting by Wagner. It's also important reporting because it demonstrates the flow of information and dynamic relationship between doctor, team, player, and pain.
The timeline, reality, and motivations are nuanced, and no injury situation is ever as simple as Pain = MRI = Fix the Issue 100 percent. If it was this easy, every team would do it and there would never be setbacks. But, that's just not how it works, be it in sports, in baseball, in New York, and especially in Citi Field.
Instead, it's a constant back-and-forth between the player's body and brain, how he communicates those issues to people in positions to do something about it, and then how those people collaborate to determine a solution with medical professionals. And, despite having millions of dollars invested in talent and technology, no case is ever the same, things change, and not everyone is honest or speaking the same language about what is happening in the moment.
Aug 17, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets manager Terry Collins (10) takes New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) out of a game against the New York Yankees during the fourth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
This is exactly why I believe the overarching issue -- as it pertains to the Mets and the barrage of injuries they have recently suffered -- is less about the doctors and training staff and more about communication. Thankfully, as I detailed in a post on Sept. 14, it appears Sandy Alderson has started making changes to help improve how he gets information about injuries, and how the entire organization communicates and deals with health and fitness.
In regards to Matz, as a pitcher, it's all just so frustrating. It's frustrating for him, I'm sure, in a way I will never experience and can't truly imagine. But, it's also frustrating for us -- as fans -- and for the organization, who know he has talent, but can't trust in his presence because -- to date -- he just keeps missing major time due to significant issues and invasive surgery.
At the same time, he's 26 years old. And given his talent, age, and having been drafted in 2009, he should have at least 500 innings and 80 starts under his belt at this point in his career. Instead, due to multiple significant surgeries, he's made only 41 starts and thrown 234 innings.
Aug 17, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) reacts after allowing three runs to the New York Yankees during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
As I mentioned earlier in the year, Tom Glavine, Chuck Finley, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Randy Johnson, and countless other left-handed starting pitchers all needed around 60-to-100 starts before their career ERA began to dip and stayed below 4.00. David Price got it together quicker than most, but still needed 30-to-40 starts and in to his third big-league season before having consistent success.
The point is, Glavine and company were all around Matz's age when they hit the pivot point in their career. And instead of gaining experience and learning about himself and the art of pitching, as they did in the early-20s, Matz has been rehabbing and missing major time on the field.
Now, as he starts to hit what should be his prime, he's still essentially a rookie, learning the game, and questioning himself mentally and physically. Sure, time allows for professional pitchers to excel in their 30s, no question. Unfortunately, time also makes it more difficult to sustain success, because it's at this point when little aches and pains, and the struggle to recover, start impacting success, in addition to major injury and the potential for surgery.
The fact is, Matz will not meet expectations until he's able to make close to 30 starts in a single season. Maybe that'll be next season, maybe it won't. But, if he can stay healthy, find the right mindset that works for him, and continue to develop his pitches, he's going to notice that everything will click, and when that happens, he won't look back. The thing is, he can't learn if he isn't on the mound. And at some point, the Mets can't keep waiting for him to stay strong...