CLEVELAND -- When Steven Matz struck out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect first inning Sunday, then worked out of a jam in the second, just like that his woes appeared over. Coming off by far the worst outing of his big league career, Matz seemed back to normal.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen was not as convinced. Watching from the dugout, Warthen noticed that seven of Matz's 11 pitches that inning were fastballs. Thirty-six of his first 46 pitches fit that bill. So Warthen called the left-hander aside to preach the same thing he had throughout Matz's work week: throw more breaking stuff.
When Matz complied, he began thriving. Cutting his fastball percentage from three-quarters to roughly one-half during the fourth through seventh innings, Matz struck out a career-high nine en route to seven shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Indians.
"Once he started using more of them," manager Terry Collins said of Matz's breaking pitches, "he had an easier time."
If the rhetoric seems similar, it's because Noah Syndergaard went through almost an identical transformation last summer. Originally headstrong to the point of stubbornness regarding his triple-digit fastball, Syndergaard learned over the course of the year to mix in all his pitches. By September, he had evolved into the monster that anchors the Mets' staff today.
Matz has been no different. His immediate success in the big leagues last season may have masked the fact that he's still a young player prone to mistakes; those showed up en masse during Miami's seven-run pummeling of him last week at Citi Field, an outing that Matz insists he was able to flush away immediately.
"I think that's one of the trademarks of all these young guys," Collins said. "I think he pays attention."
After delivering six straight fastballs Sunday to Francisco Lindor, who doubled to open the fourth, Matz threw his curveball, changeup and slider more than 50 percent of the time the rest of the way. He wound up retiring 12 of his final 13 batters in that fashion, giving the Mets one of their best starts of the season: seven innings, three hits, two walks, nine strikeouts and only 94 pitches. Matz shaved his ERA from 37.80 to 7.27.
"Honestly, I didn't feel any different," he said. "Last time, I felt really good out of the gate. Today, I felt good out of the gate. I was just able to carry it onto the field."
Consider it a lesson learned for a pitcher still finding his way, 10 starts into his big league career.
"We knew he had come in off a tough game, but once he got through the order … you could see him kind of loosen up and start to throw his breaking ball, changeup, everything for strikes," Collins said. "Then he started getting comfortable, and you could tell. That's what happens a lot of times with good pitchers."