Both Amed Rosario and Steven Matz have plenty to prove in Major League Baseball’s 60-game 2020 season.
The 24-year-old Rosario showed flashes of living up to his potential as the New York Mets’ former top prospect in their system, breaking out during the second half of 2019.
After struggling to find his groove for two-plus seasons, Rosario slashed .318/.349/.449 in his final 85 games last season with seven home runs and 34 RBI.
The hope amongst the Mets is that he’ll continue that upward trend even in the shortened season. For Rosario, the formula seems simple.
“I think for me it’s a process. Like I always say, this game can get a little complicated. But I feel if I continue working hard and continue getting consistent efforts, you’ll see a lot of that second-half player,” he said through a translator on Wednesday. “For me, nothing has changed, none of my goals have changed because this is something we’ve had no control over. So I just go out there with the same mindset of doing my best.”
“I’m just going out this season to have fun. I’m not putting pressure on myself. I feel if you put pressure on yourself, especially in baseball, it becomes problematic. If you take this as a real job, it becomes problematic. I’m just going out to have fun and play my game.”
Even if that includes not spitting, which coronavirus protocols prohibit players from doing — something that has made Rosario feel “uncomfortable.”
The young shortstop also addressed his absence during the first few days of summer camp as originally unknown reasons saw him report to Citi Field on Sunday rather than Friday.
“That was a team decision,” he said. “They told me to report on Sunday… I do what I’m told to do. They wouldn’t tell me to do anything for bad reasons.”
While Rosario’s stock is trending upward, Steven Matz’s story with the Mets is still very much up in the air.
The 29-year-old left-hander has battled a slew of injuries to put up a second-straight season of 30 or more starts, but major discrepancies remained in his game.
Matz went 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA last season, but his splits between home and away starts were glaring. At Citi Field, Matz was 8-2 with a 2.31 ERA while his road marks were considerably worse at 3-8 with a 6.62 ERA.
“If I had to say one thing when stuff just starts going wrong, it tends to speed up on you,” Matz said Wednesday when diagnosing some of his issues last season. “Sometimes less is more for me. Just to be consistent with my stuff and try not to add anything, just execute a pitch.”
Those inconsistencies prompted the Mets to find more bottom-of-the-rotation help over the winter, bringing in Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. Wacha and Matz were expected to jockey for the last available spot in the rotation before Noah Syndergaard was forced to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Now they’re both guaranteed spots in the starting staff.
Early returns on Matz at summer camp at Citi Field have been promising, though.
Mets ace and two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom said on Monday that Matz “Looked really good… maybe the best I’ve seen him in a long time.”
Matz agreed with deGrom on Wednesday, saying this is the best he’s felt in a while.
“The ball was coming out of my hand really good,” he said. “It felt crisp.”
He attributed the improvements to his work with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and with a group of MLB players — including Mets reliever Brad Brach — down in Nashville, Tennessee during the coronavirus hiatus.
“We had a pretty good group in Nashville… Kind of redeemed the time a little bit,” he said.
It was there he went back to the drawing board to reassess his arsenal — especially his curveball.
“I’ve been messing around with finger grips, throwing a slower curveball… I was really able to tinker with a lot of different grips,” Matz said. “All that gave me a better feel for things.”
“The biggest for me is the curveball. I get hurt when I leave it up… That’s the biggest thing. Just executing that curveball, even if it wasn’t the nastiest… just placement was something I was really focused on.”