Steven Matz is showing the Blue Jays that he’s just what they needed, a reliable No. 2 starter.
Toronto Blue Jays starters not named Hyun Jin Ryu are auditioning to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation. On Monday, in his first game in a Blue Jays uniform, left-hander Steven Matz made an emphatic statement about why it should be him.
Matz, pitching in front of a capacity crowd at Globe Life Field in Arlington, guided the Blue Jays to a 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers as the club went 3-1 to begin the season. Matz went 6.1 innings, striking out nine while surrendering only two hits and one earned run to pick up his first win as a Blue Jay.
Matz was given a second chance by the Blue Jays after a disastrous 2020 season with the New York Mets. He went 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA, second-worst among all starters, and led the Majors giving up more than four home runs per nine innings.
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He desperately needed a change of scenery, and he’s thrived on it. It began in Spring Training, when Matz gave up only three earned runs in 15.1 innings and, crucially, didn’t surrender a home run. Against the Rangers on Monday, he retired the first nine batters he faced and left the game after recording an out in the seventh inning at 91 pitches.
The stuff was great. Matz allowed opponents to hit .322 off his sinking fastball last season, with six home runs. The Rangers managed just one hit off the pitch on Monday, a single by Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the fourth inning. Of his 43 sinkers, 30 were at least 95 mph. He induced 15 swinging strikes, the third-most in a start of his Major League career.
Matz ended the game as he began it, with a dominant assortment of sinkers, changeups, and curveballs that baffled Rangers hitters. He struck out the side in the sixth inning, getting David Dahl and Nick Solak to chase changeups in the dirt and Joey Gallo swinging at a 96 mph fastball above the zone. Facing Nate Lowe to lead off the seventh, Matz struck him out on three pitches before he was lifted for Tyler Chatwood.
A starting pitcher lasting into the seventh is something the Blue Jays haven’t had much of recently. Ryu was the other pitcher to record an out past the sixth inning last season; just one of their last 92 starting pitchers dating back to August of 2019 to have pitched into the seventh inning.
Matz is fitting in right away with the Blue Jays. His nine strikeouts in his debut with the club tie Roger Clemens for second-most in franchise history, behind the 11 by David Price in 2015. He’s the first Blue Jays starter to pitch at least six innings while giving up two or fewer hits, no more than one earned run and striking out at least nine since J.A. Happ in 2018.
The reason for his stunning turnaround from his final season in New York? A newfound belief in himself.
“I feel more confident now. I kind of know a little bit of what I’m trying to do out there and sticking to that,” he said (via mlb.com) before making his debut. “I’m constantly trying to tinker and change things when I was with the Mets, try to make myself better. But sometimes you’ve just got to believe in what you got and trust your natural ability sometimes.”
It’s only one start, and memories of 2020 still linger, but if Matz has truly found a new life in his career, the Blue Jays would be thrilled. Ryu is the ace of the staff, but behind him the rotation is unsettled. Nate Pearson and Robbie Ray remain out of the lineup, leaving the Blue Jays to turn to Ross Stripling and T.J. Zeuch for the final two games of the season-opening series in Yankee Stadium. Zeuch pitched solidly, even admirably, but he wasn’t like Matz was on Monday.
A Matz-Ryu combo at the top of the rotation is just what the Blue Jays need to be contenders this season. And after his performance on Monday, Matz is well on his way to making it a reality.