Mets rookie LHP Steven Matz struck out seven batters in eight scoreless innings as New York took the rubber game of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, 2-0, on Wednesday.
He retired 16 straight batters before Clint Robinson hit a two-out single in the eighth inning. However, Terry Collins and Dan Warthen decided to leave Matz in the game to face Bryce Harper, who eventually grounded out to end the inning.
"When you have a young player, there are certain situations where you've got to challenge them," Collins said after the game. "That was one of them for me. I said, 'Hey, look, if he's going to be a big winner for us, if he's going to pitch in big games, he's got to learn how to get those guys out in tight situations.'"
"He threw one heck of a game," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't see lefties throwing 94, 95 consistently. He had a good changeup. He was dotting the outside part of the plate. Sometimes you are dominated. He was very determined. He is a good athlete. I was looking at him, and he reminded me of Jon Matlack back in my day. Matz was throwing the heck out of the ball."
Matz said it meant a lot that Collins let him stay in the game to get out of the jam.
"As a competitor, you don't want to come out in that situation," he said. "And for your manager to have faith in you to leave you out to face arguably the greatest hitter in the game right now, it's pretty awesome."
In his last seven starts, dating back to early April, Matz is 7-0 with a 1.13 ERA, which is the best ERA on the staff during that stretch.
"Somehow, being in New York this year, he's kind of gone a little bit under the radar with some of the other guys that we have," David Wright said about Matz. "That was about as dominant of a performance as I've seen this year. That's a very, very good lineup. That's a very good team. To come in here on the road and pitch the way he pitched and just dominate a very, very good lineup, that's impressive. And we needed it."
"Don't be fooled, he's making a name for himself in this league, and it's going to get around fast," Collins said. "He knows he's part of a very, very good pitching staff. We count on him a lot when he goes out there, and I think he can pick his game up. Maybe a lot of people don't buy into it, but this guy has pitched big games in his career. He's not afraid of the challenge."
Matz, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta are the only pitchers with four scoreless starts of at least six innings this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
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I can't believe I'm saying this, but, right now, he's the best pitcher on the staff.
Yesterday, the Nationals never got off a good swing against him. He was getting weak contact after weak contact. He also kept the ball down, getting ground balls when he couldn't get a strikeout. He threw his slider more than in previous starts, but his bread-and-butter pitch is still his fastball. He throws it a lot. And why not? The Nationals couldn't hit it -- and when they did, again, it was for weak contact and likely on the ground.
He was masterful Wednesday and on his way to challenging Aldemys Diaz, Trevor Story and Corey Seager for the National League Rookie of the Year.
By the way, in case you're thinking about, here's how ESPN sees the current race for the National League Cy Young Award: