Steven Matz Slowed By Elbow Trouble Late in Spring Training

Posted on March 26, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

New York Mets Steven Matz

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The New York Mets are scratching lefty Steven Matz from his next scheduled start, a sentence that has become all too common during his young career. The team announced Sunday morning that Matz would not be pitching in a minor league game on Monday as scheduled because of “tenderness” and “irritation” in his left elbow. Early in the spring, this could have been looked at as the Mets taking a cautious approach with Matz, but with opening day a little more than a week away, a skipped start could prevent Matz from starting the season in New York’s rotation.

“He’s got a little tenderness in his elbow and a little irritation, so we’ve got to figure that out,” Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters Sunday morning. “We don’t think it’s anything serious, but it bothers him a little bit on extension, so he’s not going to pitch (Monday). We’ll see where that takes him in the next four or five days.”

Matz underwent Tommy John surgery almost immediately after being drafted in 2009, and setbacks prevented him from even stepping onto a minor league mound until 2012. He eventually recovered and quickly shot through the minors, emerging as a key part of New York’s rotation in 2015. Matz posted a 3.40 ERA in 22 starts last year, pitching through bone spurs in his elbow for much of the season, until shoulder discomfort forced him to be shut down for the season, allowing him to have those bone spurs surgically removed.

The Mets have been assured by doctors that the issue with Matz is not related to his elbow ligament, which would appear to remove any possibility that he’ll need a second Tommy John surgery. Alderson told reporters Sunday that the team has known about the soreness in Matz’s elbow “for a while,” adding that the lefty has not undergone an MRI and that the team will know more about his condition in a few days.

Matz struggled in his last spring start on Wednesday, with both him and the team blaming poor command for the rough outing. One sluggish start doesn’t appear to be a concern at the moment, but the frequency with which Matz has dealt with injuries during his career continues to be a concern for the team.

“It’s worrisome that he continues to be injured off and on,” Alderson said. “That’s the difficulty. We don’t think it’s serious. On the other hand, starting pitchers are relied on every five days. I’m not sure exactly where this is going to take us.”

If the elbow pain is able to subside in the days to come, there’s still enough time in spring for Matz to make one more spring start and be ready to pitch the first week of the season. But if that doesn’t happen, the Mets may have to fill an extra spot in their rotation at the start of the season.

The good news for New York is that the team has three pitchers competing for one spot in the rotation, and so finding a fill-in for Matz shouldn’t be difficult. Robert Gsellman has arguably been the team’s best pitcher this spring, posting a 1.56 ERA in 17.1 innings. Seth Lugo is also a candidate, particularly after shining during the World Baseball Classic. Zack Wheeler has remained healthy this spring after missing the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. Rafael Montero could be a dark horse candidate, as he boasts a 1.96 ERA this spring.

“We’re still sorting through that,” Alderson said about having to fill Matz’s spot in the rotation. “Fortunately, Zack Wheeler is coming along. Gsellman has pitched very well. Lugo pitched well in the Classic. So yes, this is where the depth comes into play.”

Rotation depth doesn’t appear to be an issue for the Mets, which makes the latest injury setback for Matz easier to handle. However, Matz has shown in his 28 career major league starts that he’s capable of pitching like a front-line starter. Matz is an important part of the team’s plans for 2017 and beyond, and so every scratched start and injury setback becomes disconcerting for the Mets.

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