Steven Matz was a major leaguer among minor leaguers Sunday.
Matz, on major league rehab from the New York Mets, threw five perfect innings as the 51s beat El Paso (24-27) 7-5 at Cashman Field to snap their six-game losing streak.
“I’m feeling good,” Matz said. “I’m glad that I got into the fifth inning today. It’s really the first time I got to pitch in the fifth inning since last August so it was good to get those up downs and just get the work in.”
Matz underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow last October.
After reporting to spring training healthy, he has been dealing with elbow discomfort that has kept him sidelined all season.
Sunday marked just his third rehab start, his second with the 51s (20-31). In the first, he gave up five runs in four innings while walking two. He allowed five hits, two of which were home runs.
“His command was 100 times better today than it was last time,” manager Pedro Lopez said. “I thought command of the fastball was good and that made his changeup 10 times better, too.”
Matz struck out eight batters in his outing and threw 73 pitches, 50 for strikes.
“I was able to locate my fastball better,” he said. “My changeup was really a good pitch today as well. I was just throwing a lot of strikes and getting strike ones is the main thing.”
After his last start, Matz sat down with pitching coach Frank Viola and minor league pitching coordinator Ron Romanick to watch video. He said he had gotten “a little out of whack,” and the adjustments they made paid dividends Sunday.
“We just made a little subtle move with his foot on the rubber. He was throwing off more of the heel rather than the ball of his foot when he was coming out of his delivery,” Viola said. “Ron just moved his heel a little bit and now today he was throwing off the ball (of his foot) and it kept him straight on to the direction of the catcher.”
Viola said that from the first pitch to the 73, Matz kept his delivery together and it was clean.
As for his velocity, it topped out around 93-94 for his whole outing, as opposed to the last in which Viola said he went from about 94 in the first inning to 90 in the fourth.
Matz, Lopez and Viola said they didn’t know if he would make another rehab start with Las Vegas before being activated, though Viola said it wouldn’t hurt.
“I think we could build him up to 90 pitches where he’s really comfortable,” Viola said. “The thing is don’t want it see is I don’t want to see him go up there after throwing 73 (pitches) and all of a sudden he’s put in fire, throwing 105-110 and he’s not ready to do that. It’s only his third start since (August) of last year when he pitched last so I mean this is still spring training for him.”
The perfect game fell apart after Matz’s departure, as the bullpen gave up five runs — four charged to Alberto Baldonado — in the sixth inning. Four of those runs came on one swing, a Jose Pirela grand slam off Erik Goeddel.
Las Vegas charged back with three in the bottom of the inning — one on a Phillip Evans RBI double, one on an error and one after a ball Brandon Nimmo hit got lost in the sun and fell into center field — before eventually pulling away in the eighth inning with an Amed Rosario RBI single breaking the tie.
Nimmo and Dominic Smith each finished the day 4-for-5. Smith drove in three of the team’s runs and Nimmo drove in one while scoring twice.
“I’m just glad that the guys were able to come through and put some good at-bats together,” Lopez said.
Who: El Paso Chihuahuas at Las Vegas 51s
When: 7:05 p.m. Monday
Where: Cashman Field
Starters: Bryan Rodriguez (1-3, 5.04 ERA) vs. Ricky Knapp (2-5, 4.92 ERA)
Tuesday: El Paso at Las Vegas, 12:05 p.m.
Thursday: Las Vegas at Reno, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Las Vegas at Reno, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Las Vegas at Reno, 7:05 p.m.
Right-handed pitcher Rafael Montero, who was demoted by the New York Mets last week, was added to the 51s roster on Sunday. Catcher Jeff Glenn was placed on the disabled list.
Contact Betsy Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.