Mets’ Matz should return as a reliever

By Brian Farrell
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Steven Matz is currently waiting for his injured lat muscle to heal so that he can resume his role in the Mets rotation. He showed in his brief stay in Queens that he is a major league starting pitcher, possibly a future great one. After dominating Triple-A, he only gave up seven hits in 13.2 big league innings to go along with 14 strikeouts. The lat injury was not originally considered serious so Mets fans are already entertaining visions of a young and dominating starting rotation beginning this year.

If Matz does come back in 2015 — he has yet to be cleared to throw — the right move would be for the Mets put him in their bullpen. Watching Matz pitch in his two major league starts, it is not hard to envision that rotation of the future, but the Mets are making a playoff run right now and could use the left-handed help in their suddenly shorthanded bullpen.

Matz did not give up a hit to a left-handed hitter in six opportunities in his two major league starts. In Triple-A in 2015, lefties hit a paltry .162 against him. This is someone who can be relied on to get the tough left-handers out. Would you rather trot out Alex Torres to face Bryce Harper in a key seventh inning situation in September, or Steven Matz?

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The Mets already have five starting pitchers, with a nice balance of youth and veteran leadership. No one wants a return of the six-man rotation. The bullpen is where things are shaky. Putting another rookie in the rotation might actually increase the bullpen workload. Coming out of the pen will have the added benefit of limiting Matz’s innings, especially as he comes back from the injury.

The Mets’ left-handed relievers have been especially worrisome. Sean Gilmartin has been cast in a left-handed specialist role, but is not very effective against left-handed hitters. The team hopes Jerry Blevins can come back this year and be effective, or that there could be post-waiver trade options, because we all know Alex Torres is not a reliever on a playoff team.

The St. Louis Cardinals have been using highly touted starting pitching prospects in a relief role to the benefit of both player and team for years. Ask Carlos Beltran about Adam Wainwright’s time as a reliever. This year’s breakout starter for St. Louis has been Carlos Martinez, who broke in with the team as a reliever the previous two seasons. He is basically a rookie as a starter, but watching him on the mound you see a comfortable and commanding presence as a result of his previous MLB experience

For a more recent success story you need only look at last year’s Cinderella Royals team. Brandon Finnegan, but in their tremendous playoff run he came out of nowhere to get tough left-handed outs out of the bullpen. An experience like that can only help him in the future.

Putting Steven Matz in the pen is the logical move for right now. This is not a situation where the team is jerking Jenrry Mejia back and forth between starting and relieving, without a clearly defined role. Matz can be confident he will be a key part of the rotation starting in 2016 after Bartolo Colon moves on. In 2015, he can help the team most as a reliever, either as a long man or a lockdown LOOGY. The moves made by the Mets at the trade deadline say ‘win now.’ Matz helps those chances if he’s used to bolster the bullpen for the stretch run and hopefully into the playoffs.

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