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In a shorthanded, inconsistent staff, Steven Matz’s implosion was last thing Mets needed

New York Mets manager Luis Rojas (19) takes the ball from starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) during the top of the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The last possible thing the Mets needed on Monday night was a dud from Steven Matz.

And that’s exactly what they got.

Mere hours after top-end starter Marcus Stroman went from returning triumphantly from a torn calf muscle to opting out of the rest of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns, the Mets’ fill-in No. 2 starter in Matz was shelled by the Nationals.

In 4.1 innings, he allowed eight runs and three home runs in the Mets’ 16-4 loss, which dropped them down to last-place in the NL East.

The long-ball has been the key issue for the 29-year-old southpaw, who has already allowed a whopping eight round-trippers in 18.2 innings pitched. That leads the majors — so does his 25 hits allowed.

To put his knack of giving up big flies into perspective, since 1871, only 17 pitchers in MLB history have pitched at least 18 innings and have a home-runs-per-nine-innings mark worse than Matz’s 3.86 this season.

“I’m just trying to figure out, what is it?” Matz pondered. “Why are they so on me these past two games? I saw some of the replays and those pitches weren’t terrible pitches but they’re hitting them out of the park. I’m just trying to figure all that stuff out.”

“I’ve got to be better.”

His struggles and his 8.20 ERA is also mystifying manager Luis Rojas, who has already experienced his fair share of drama and incompetence at the helm.

“Stuff-wise, he looked good. The [velocity] was there, the changeup looked really good in the first inning,” he said. “I thought from my angle, he slowed down in a few of his secondary pitchers which definitely causes a hitter to stop and get a better read… I saw that a few times.”

“I didn’t see him necessarily tip any pitches.”

Given the Mets’ lack of options after Stroman’s opt-out and Noah Syndergaard’s season-ending Tommy John surgery back in March, Matz’s spot in the rotation is still very much safe considering the team has no other options at this time.

With only three other healthy starters besides Matz in Jacob deGrom, Rick Porcello, and David Peterson — Michael Wacha is out with shoulder inflammation — the Mets have to scramble for a fifth starter. Rojas mentioned the returning Robert Gsellman or even star reliever, Seth Lugo, as options as desperation creeps in.

Even a diamond-in-the-rough fill-in just to round the rotation out can’t mute the fact that the Mets’ viable starting pitching depth has already been disproven.

For a pitcher who came into 2020 with a lot to prove to a club that has been plenty patient with him, the magnifying glass focuses in especially close toward Matz.

“I’ve got to address some things, especially why I’ve been giving up the home run ball,” Matz said. “It’s been killing me so far. I think we have a great staff. I think our potential’s really high. And so for me, personally, I’m really disappointed in myself and letting the team down. I’m just going to get to work, and just try to be better.”

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