Most Mets fans were not surprised when the team announced this week that pitcher Steven Matz was being shut down. They weren’t shocked that he required elbow surgery, either. Anyone watching one of Matz’s recent games could see on the Citi Field scoreboard that something was wrong.
Matz has pitched terribly for over a month now. Since July 9, Matz has gone 1-7 with a 10.19 ERA in 32.2 innings. Over those 8 starts, he has allowed 57 hits, 7 home runs, a .385 batting average against, walked 10 and struck out 26.
The 26-year-old lefty has performed well the past three seasons when he was healthy. The ‘when healthy’ part being a key qualification. Since he debuted in 2015, Matz has made only 41 regular-season starts.
Steven Matz Injury History
Matz had Tommy John surgery after he was drafted in the second round in 2009. Unlike his friend and teammate Jacob deGrom, Matz had a tough recovery from the surgery. The slow rehab delayed his progress in the organization.
In 2015, he missed nearly two months with a partially torn lat muscle. Last year, he developed a large bone spur in his pitching elbow. He pitched through that discomfort but then was shut down with left shoulder tightness in August. He eventually had surgery to remove the bone spur last winter.
This spring training, Matz again developed arm soreness. When an MRI revealed no damage there were whispers that Steven Matz wasn’t tough enough. Still, the Mets did send him to the DL, calling it elbow inflammation. But Matz said it felt more like a strained flexor tendon.
When Matz returned on June 10 he had initial success. He was 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his first five starts. Steven had decided he was not going to throw his slider anymore. Feeling that it was the cause of much of his arm pain. Instead he was relying primarily on his sinker and curve, also mixing in a change.
Pitching with Pain
According to reports, Steven Matz endured multiple pain-killing injections to quiet the discomfort he was still having. Some of the shots were even given on game days. At times his elbow swelled to the size of a grapefruit. He says that the pain came and went. That the elbow bothered him mostly between starts. So he skipped some bullpen sessions to limit the swelling and pain.
You can easily see how Matz’s vertical release point dropped each time through a lineup this season. He was having trouble getting full elbow extension. A similar thing happened to Jacob deGrom late last season.
Diagnosis – Ulnar Nerve
Finally, an exam by team physician David Altchek on Monday revealed that irritation to Matz’s ulnar nerve was causing the elbow pain. The previous MRIs revealed no structural damages, because there was no ‘damage’ to reveal. A nerve test had to be performed along with CT scans to see the irritation, which was finally done this week.
It’s the same injury that Jacob deGrom had surgery for late last year. Mets reliever Erik Goeddel had the surgery in late 2016. As Goeddel told NJ.com:
Before I had it done, every time I tried to straighten my elbow the last 10 degrees or so, everything felt jammed up in there. Nothing felt right, and you need that to get extension through a good pitch. After I had the surgery, recovery really wasn’t that bad and immediately, I could straighten it again. It felt good throwing and it was like night-and-day. It was a pretty good surgery, I thought.
Matz had successful surgery on Wednesday to move the ulnar nerve so that it does not get compressed and irritated anymore. It’s a procedure that is sometimes done during Tommy John surgery. But some doctors don’t do it then and apparently Matz’ TJ surgeon didn’t. DeGrom had the same surgery last September and began spring training on a normal schedule. However, he also recovered from Tommy John surgery much faster than Matz.
Steven Matz Contract
Steven is not arbitration eligible until 2019 and won’t become a free agent until 2022. He’s a lefty at a cheap price of just $562k and effective when healthy. Still, the Mets will certainly be looking to acquire more starting pitching depth this off-season.
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