Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE -- The competition between Steven Matz and Michael Wacha for the final spot in the rotation represents one of the few unsettled questions in Mets camp. If all six starters remain healthy, and if Rick Porcello performs competently, either Matz or Wacha will have to move to the bullpen.
Despite their need to win a job, both pitchers are tasked with the typical spring training project of prioritizing process over results, especially in their early appearances. They won't be judged exclusively on performance, but on their adherence to personal goals set with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
If you're watching closely enough, you can find clues to how each is progressing. Here's a guide for what to watch, based on a chat with both Matz and Wacha.
Matz: How often does he throw his slider, and pitch inside to righties?
Matz took a leap forward during the middle of last season, when he began using his slider more than ever before. Before June he had never thrown the pitch more than 13.5 percent of the time in any given month.
Beginning in June and lasting for the rest of the year, that number hovered around 20 percent - and better results followed. Matz's ERA dropped nearly a run and a half from the first half to the second half.
Does he plan to use the slider as much this year?
"Yes and no," Matz said, explaining that he needs to strike a balance between emphasizing the pitch and protecting himself from the blisters that it causes.
His usage will attempt to find a middle ground between having the slider and avoiding the blisters, which can become a significant impediment if they worsen through a season.
Matz also tinkered last year with his positioning on the rubber. For this season he has decided to shift back to the far third base side, where he was most comfortable.
That allows him to emphasize a strength of his, pitching inside to righthanded batters. "That's my bread and butter," he said.
During a live batting practice session earlier this week, Matz pounded the inner part of the strike zone while facing righties, a preview of what he can do when at his best.
Wacha: Is he throwing strikes with the fastball and curveball?
Throughout his career with the Cardinals, Wacha's pitch usage has been fairly consistent. He throws, in order of frequency, a four-seam fastball, a change-up, a cutter and a curveball.
This year, Wacha would like to refine and increase use of the curveball. From June to September last year, he went in the other direction, throwing it less than 10 percent of the time for the first time in several years.
In Mets camp, he wants to get better at throwing it for strikes to "get swings and misses.'
His is a slow curve, averaging 76 miles per hour, and if he can throw it for strikes would create a useful change of speed from his 93mph fastball.
Wacha is also working the early spring project common to most pitchers of simply honing his fastball command.
If he's throwing both the fastball and the curve for strikes, he's accomplishing what he wants in his first few appearances.