Steven Matz looked shaky in the first and fourth innings Wednesday afternoon.
But after escaping both innings without allowing a run, the 24-year-old left-hander settled down and finished with a gem in what could be his final Triple-A start.
Matz, one of the New York Mets’ top prospects, allowed four hits and one walk and struck out five in seven shutout innings as the 51s capped a three-game series sweep of the Salt Lake Bees with a 5-1 victory at Cashman Field. Las Vegas completed its 11-game homestand 9-2 and has won seven straight.
“I assess it as a positive outing for him,” manager Wally Backman said. “There’s been so much hype on this kid, and he knows it’s just a matter of time. I think, sometimes mentally, like in the first inning, he just wasn’t focused the way he normally is. I’ve seen it happen with (Matt) Harvey when I had him. I’ve seen it with (Zack) Wheeler, when they start reading all that hype. But still, for a guy to pitch the way that he did, he settled in and pitched a nice game.”
Matz, who recorded his team-leading seventh victory on 87 pitches, gave up a single to Gary Brown to start the game, but eventually caught him in an attempted steal. He also allowed a two-out walk to Ryan Jackson before catcher Dan Rohlfing threw him out trying to steal second base.
In the fourth, Matz kept the Bees scoreless with the help of right fielder Travis Taijeron. Salt Lake’s Alex Yarbrough, who singled and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, was thrown out on a bang-bang play at the plate, a moment pitching coach Frank Viola said might have helped Matz settle down.
“Early on, he was a little shaky,” Viola said. “He was up in the zone and got hurt a couple of times, but he made the pitches he needed to and had the defensive help behind him. I think a little light switch went on after that play at the plate. He really settled down and got back to pitching Steven Matz baseball — down in the zone, mixing his curveball and changeup with his fastball. That was the best of Steven the last three innings.”
Matz (7-4, 2.11 ERA) retired the final 10 batters he faced and got run support in the 51s’ three-run sixth inning. T.J. Rivera hit a double down the left-field line and scored on a triple by Matt Reynolds to give Las Vegas a 1-0 lead.
Alex Castellanos hit an RBI double and Jayce Boyd an RBI single in the inning for a 3-0 lead.
“It was the third time through the lineup against that left-hander,” Backman said. “And we kept saying that you’ve got to make him elevate the ball because it was just fastball, changeup. He doesn’t throw hard. But his changeup was pretty good today, and we were chasing it down and out of the zone. They finally laid off of it, and he got the ball up and we got some good, hard hits.”
Anthony Recker hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning for the 51s’ final runs. Grant Green had an RBI single in the ninth for the Bees.
When asked if Matz had thrown his final Triple-A game, Backman said: “That’s not my call. Probably pretty good chance. I don’t know that for sure. But he’s done everything he’s had to do. We’ve all read what Sandy Alderson has said. He’s right — it’s to the point where he’s starting to waste bullets now. It’s no secret.”
NOTES — Backman recorded his 200th victory as Las Vegas’ manager. He is 200-155 for a .563 win percentage in three seasons. … The 51s will play the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, tonight to open a seven-game trip in Northern California.
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.