Steven Matz, A Case Study In Mind Over Body (Photo: AP)

On Steven Matz And The Vanishing Deer In The Headlights Look

Perhaps, the word blossoming most aptly fits Steven Matz as a starting pitcher for the Mets. No surprise, it’s only been a question of mind over body…

For so long, there always seemed to be something “off” about Steven Matz when he was pitching for the New York Mets. Often, he gave the impression, even while watching on TV, he was battling himself more than the batters.

This season, with the unrelenting assistance of Met’s pitching coach, Dave Eiland, the deer in the headlights look has slowly but surely transgressed into not only the absence of the look but the ability to execute his pitches with a confidence level at full throttle.

Steven Matz has conquered the “I know how to do it” phase of his career – and it’s making all the difference.

It’s been said that left-handed pitchers take more time to fully develop than their counterparts from the other side. If that’s true, Steven Matz is the 2019 Poster Boy for reclamation projects.

Coming off a dismal 2018 season in which Matz won only five of his sixteen decisions while pitching to an ERA touching 4.00, Matz has rebounded to arguably become the Mets best and most reliable starter. The numbers are not overwhelming (4-3, 3.55 ERA), and in some cases (almost two home runs surrendered per nine innings pitched, and only 51 total innings over ten starts), there is still cause for concern.

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But it’s that vibe Matz emits when he is on the mound now that is different. Temper tantrums following a bad call or a bloop hit have vanished. Leaning in to get the sign from his catcher, there is a look of purpose in his eyes seldom seen in his earlier years. And with that comes the concentration allowing his body to follow his mind to execute pitches.

Here’s Dave Eiland talking about the transformation in Steven Matz:

“He made some significant physical adjustments with his delivery and position on the rubber and stuff like that,” Eiland said. “But one of the biggest things he’s done is he’s really made some mental adjustments, he finally figured some things out on the mental side.”Mike Puma, New York Post 6/1/2019

Steven Matz has always had the tools to be among the best. On many occasions, he has given us a glimpse of that raw ability, like last September 1 when he went seven innings against the Giants allowing three hits in a win, striking out eleven. Or last July 26 against the Pirates when Matz tossed seven innings of 3-run ball in a Mets 4-3 win.

But if you go back and look at his overall splits last season, what is clearly missing is consistency. Turn the page to this year with the Mets two top starters, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard, both struggling, with hope beyond hope for Jason Vargas to contribute, it’s been Steven Matz, and to a lesser extent Zack Wheeler, carrying the torch for a struggling team.

The Pitcher's Mound - A Lonely Plave To Be (Photo: USA Today)
The Pitcher’s Mound – A Lonely Place To Be (Photo: USA Today)

So strong has Matz been, you can begin to think we are on the brink of something very special developing. Which is why Dave Eiland is confident in saying, “And like I have told him, he is just now scratching the surface. This isn’t the end, this is just the beginning.” (New York Post).

Indeed, pitchers are a different breed. They are the ones who stand alone with the ball in their hand with 50,000 fans and millions more watching on TV – anticipating the beginning of the action in baseball. It is a lonely trade. The elite learns to block it all out, staying within themselves at all times, good and bad. These are your Zack Greinke‘s, Justin Verlander‘s, and yes Jacob deGrom, despite his woes in his first ten starts.

These pitcher’s pitch, and that’s precisely what Steven Matz is learning to do. He’s conquered the “I know how to do it” phase of his career, moving instead into a stage where he keeps an open mind about making small physical adjustments. Moving a couple of inches left on the rubber as suggested by Dave Eiland, finishing his pitches – it all adds up.

Some “get it” and some never do. And for every Jacob deGrom, there’s a Noah Syndergaard still struggling to find Noah Syndergaard. Steven Matz is turning the corner, ready to unleash all the talent God has given him, proving once again it’s always a matter of mind over body.

Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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