PORT ST. LUCIE — The only pitch Steven Matz threw with ease on Friday was a belt-high fastball.
The Nationals clobbered the Mets’ No. 4 starter in their 11-3 loss to Washington at First Data Field. The Mets’ first three pitchers of the day combined to give up seven homers on Friday.
Matz gave up four home runs over just two innings in his fourth start of spring training — an outing that should have progressed into the fourth or fifth inning. By the end, the southpaw gave up eight runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout.
“Especially on a day like today if you get the ball in the air it’s going to be tough keeping the ball in the park against a really good lineup like that,” Matz said. “It’s just the process in spring. It’s a good mental note to keep the ball down.”
The 27-year-old will avoid pitching to the Nationals in the opening series, slated instead to face the Marlins in Miami for his first regular season start. In other words, Matz has at least three more outings (two in the Grapefruit League) to fine-tune his mechanics on the mound.
Matz looked sharp in his first three outings of spring. Friday was his first true test of camp when the Nationals traveled to First Data Field with their regular lineup in tow.
The left-hander launched a barrel-high meatball over the plate in his first matchup against Adam Eaton, who is not one to let a mistake slide. Eaton drove the fastball deep to left field to put the Nationals on the board in the first.
Matz gave up a single, a walk and an RBI double before Yan Gomes added to the southpaw’s brutal beginning with a three-run dinger to left. He completed the first inning on 35 pitches.
“I’m not too concerned about it,” Callaway said on Matz’s start. “They diagnosed what it was. It was really his hand position on the ball that didn’t allow him to get the ball down.”
Matz didn’t lose his composure, but his location was entirely omitted from the outing. He followed up on a disappointing first inning by giving up back-to-back homers in the second. Anthony Rendon smacked a two-run homer off the scoreboard. Then a vintage Ryan Zimmerman unloaded on a solo shot to left.
Although it’s spring training and the numbers don’t count, Matz departed having put the Mets in an 8-0 hole due largely to lack of a working arsenal against a powerful regular-season lineup.
He spoke to pitching coach Dave Eiland on his gaffes, who said bringing the ball down in the zone is a minor adjustment. After exiting the game, Matz went to the back fields of the Mets facility to face a few more batters and get his pitch count up.
“I’ve been here before and I know I can correct it,” Matz said. “It’s good that this stuff happens now. Especially now that hitters have their timing down and you’re not just beating guys with a fastball up. They’re letting you know that when you keep that ball up, they’re going to get their barrels to it.”
NATS PUNISH DIAZ
Edwin Diaz fell victim to Washington’s quality at-bats on Friday. The Nats pounced on Diaz for two mistakes at the plate that translated into two homers.
The closer missed a fastball away to Rendon and left it hanging in the middle for the Silver Slugger to drive his second homer of the day to left-center field. Diaz then missed a sinker to Matt Adams and he deposited it over the fence, too.
“I was feeling great,” Diaz said. “Missed a couple pitches. If you miss a couple pitches you will get hit.”