PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Before a throwing session Thursday, Steven Matz enjoyed the calm before the official opening of spring training. He emerged from the clubhouse with a radio-controlled monster truck, which he directed to do donuts in the dirt.
His friend and rotation-mate, Jacob deGrom, followed shortly with a super-charged radio-controlled car of his own.
But soon, the time will come for the Mets to bear down and resume the business of chasing their first World Series championship in 30 years.
“Right now, I’m just looking forward to spring training and having all the guys get back down here,” said Matz, the Long Island native who helped propel the Mets to the pennant a year ago. “It’s kind of that laid-back atmosphere and everyone’s starting to get back into the groove.”
Just a year ago, Matz, 24, made his big league debut, posting a 2.27 ERA in six regular-season starts, though a lat injury sidelined him for two months. He returned in September only to deal with a back issue that jeopardized his ability to pitch in the playoffs.
Nevertheless, he posted a 3.60 ERA in three postseason starts, including one in the World Series.
Despite the injuries and setbacks, Matz successfully got his first taste of the big leagues. The transition was made easier by his familiarity with the team, which should once again help as he begins his first full big league season.
“It helped a lot,” said Matz, the Mets’ top pick in the 2009 draft. “To get called up and not know anybody would have been a lot more pressure and feeling out of place. For me to know the guys and be friends with them definitely made it easier for me.”
Now, Matz hopes to build on what he learned last year, and to do that he must stay healthy. Though he maintained roughly the same offseason workout routine, he paid close attention to finding ways to keep himself on the field.
“Last year, I got hurt a couple of times,” he said. “I don’t think it was because of a lack of work. I don’t think I’ll ever get hurt because of that. I just think it was a freak thing so I educated myself a little bit in the areas that I can improve on.”
Matz understands the challenge will be different, perhaps more difficult. A year ago, he was the “new arm” in the Mets’ talented starting rotation. But now, opponents will have more video, more information, more opportunities to adjust.
Of course, Matz has already shown a measure of adaptability. He made his MLB debut for his childhood team before dozens of friends and family, including a grandfather whose exuberant celebration turned him into an Internet sensation.
The pressure only increased once the Mets reached the World Series. That experience could come into play if the Mets successfully defend their pennant.
“For me, I just learned what that atmosphere is like, in front of that many people, that much media attention and all the other stuff that comes with it,” Matz said. “That type of pressure. That’s the main thing because it’s the same game, but all that extra stuff adds to the tension. If you can handle the World Series, there’s no bigger game.”