Single-A pitcher Steven Matz departed 2014 big league Spring Training having thoroughly impressed the Mets coaching staff. Pitching Coach Dan Warthen recently compared the 22-year-old’s ability to that of Clayton Kershaw, widely considered the best left-handed hurler in the game. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and improving secondary pitches, the Stony Brook, New York native is trying not to let the hype get to his head as he continues his trek through the Minor League system.
I spoke to Matz about his early season results, changing windup and aspirations…
Brender: You grew up in the New York area. What was the experience like to be drafted by the Mets, a team you grew up watching regularly?
Matz: It was pretty awesome. I guess I didn’t really appreciate it that much because that’s all I knew, the Mets picked me. Thinking back, it really is cool how it all worked out. The Mets were right in my back yard. I was about an hour away from the stadium. I was a Mets fan. I was really a baseball fan in general, but I rooted for the Mets. They were closest to me, so I rooted for them.
Brender: You were given the chance to be in big league camp during Spring Training. What did you take from that experience?
Matz: How the big leaguers go about their business. They get in there, they do their work, they have a good time but their work is done. They go about their business differently. I made sure to pick some of their brains.
Brender: What specifically has the organization been working with you on?
Matz: Nothing major, just fine tuning stuff, getting the ball down in the zone more. A little mechanical adjustments but nothing major, again. I did make a little bit of a bigger adjustment. I’m starting to go over my head in my windup now. It helps me keep my hands down and on time. Other than that, just minor adjustments.
Brender: What’s been the key to your success early this season?
Matz: I think I’m just building off the end of last season. I came in with a full season under my belt. I finished up strong last year. I had an offseason where I got a little bit of rest but I started going back at it right where I finished off and that’s been going well. The beginning of last year I struggled with my command a little bit. I was able to throw my fastball but with my other pitches the command wasn’t there. I’m feeling more comfortable with all three of my pitches now and that’s what has really been helping me a lot.
Brender: What have you been doing to improve your secondary pitches?
Matz: Last year I worked with Frank [Viola] a lot and his big thing was throwing them with conviction. The more I throw them now, the better they get. I throw pitches with conviction in the game. During my sides, I work on them and everything is coming together with them. The more I throw them, the more comfortable I feel and the better it’s getting.
Brender: Right now you throw three pitches — fastball, curve and change. Do you feel the need to add anything else to your repertoire?
Matz: Last year, I tried to mess around with a little bit of a slider. Talking to Frank and Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick, they both wanted me to scrap the slider and stick with the curveball and that’s what I’ve been doing. It seems like its been getting a little bit better, slowly but surely. That’s what I’m going to continue to do, keep on trying to develop those pitches.
Brender: Talk about your experience working with Frank Viola. What did he teach you?
Matz: It was a perfect situation. Frank is a guy with tons of experience. He really helped me with the mental part of the game. He’ll tell you, he’s not the best mechanical guy. Right not, I’m working with Phil Regan, who’s a great mechanical pitching coach and we’re just making the little minor adjustments which help me keep the ball down. Frank was awesome with the mental part, which is really what I needed last year to get me kick started in my career.
Brender: What’s your goal for the rest of the season?
Matz: My goal is to take it day-by-day. Each start I want to try to get deep into the game. I want to try to get past the 6th inning and try to go as deep as I can into every game. As a starting pitcher, that’s what you want. The longer you’re in the game, the better you’re doing.
Brender: I’m sure you heard all the hype about you in Spring Training. Does that get into your head and what was your reaction to that?
Matz: I guess it does a little, of course. I just try to stay focused on what I’m doing every day and try not to let all the talk get into my head. I try to do the best I can every day and stay focused every day.