Steven Matz has endured a lot since he was selected in the second round of the 2009 Draft. He put an exclamation point on his comeback on Friday night.
The Mets prospect recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings as Class A Savannah clinched the South Atlantic League South Division first-half title with a 2-1, 12-inning victory over Greenville.
Matz fanned his first five batters and ended up striking out at least one in every inning except the sixth. He issued a pair of walks and gave up two hits, including a leadoff single to Mookie Betts in the sixth. The 22-year-old left-hander exited one batter later after getting Jose Vinicio to pop out.
"The main thing was just getting ahead and having conviction and confidence in everything I was throwing," Matz said. "[Pitching coach] Frank Viola has really been stressing to me to have confidence out there, pitching with conviction. 'You have the stuff, just trust it.'"
Matz was in line for his third win before the Drive tied it in the eighth. But the Long Island native watched as Mets No. 4 prospect Brandon Nimmo lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the 12th to secure the Sand Gnats' third first-half crown in four years.
"It was really exciting, I've never been part of something like that in pro ball," Matz said. "It was pretty cool in the locker room and everything."
Matz underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2010 and did not make his professional debut until last season, when he was 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in six starts for Rookie-level Kingsport. He opened 2013 in the Sand Gnats rotation, and aside from missing his last start due to a blister, the 6-foot-2 hurler has been healthy while compiling a 2.88 ERA.
"Personally, the first half, I'm happy I finished strong," Matz said. "A lot of it was falling behind hitters in the beginning. Frank has helped me out a lot through the first half, telling me to have confidence out there and reminding me to stay back because I have a tendency to rush out there. I think the first half has been pretty good."
Knowing that he's some time to make up for, Matz has identified what he needs to do to take the next step.
"The main thing for me is to get strike one," he said. "Getting strike one and consistently throwing my off-speed [stuff] and trusting that I can throw it. I think that will get me to the next level."
The Sand Gnats feature one of the league's better offenses, thanks to prospects like Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki (No. 17), Phillip Evans (No. 20) and Jayce Boyd.
"They've been so consistent all year," Matz said. "It's awesome knowing that those guys are behind you and they're gonna give you run support every game. The whole team has jelled together so good."
Bret Mitchell (3-2) earned the win after allowing two hits and striking out three over two scoreless innings. The Sand Gnats combined for 19 strikeouts.
Corpus Christi 3, Frisco 2 (11 innings):
Astros No. 13 prospect Domingo Santana hit a solo homer in the top of the 11th inning as the Hooks rallied to wrap up the Texas League South Division first-half title. Andrew Robinson tossed a perfect inning to earn the win and Pat Urckfitz notched his third save after allowing a hit in the 11th. Erik Castro hit a two-run shot to tie the game in the seventh.
San Jose 5, Visalia 4 (10 innings):
Chris Lofton scored the go-ahead run on an error in the 10th inning as the Giants put away the California League North Division first-half pennant. Devin Harris hit a solo homer and Brock Bond was 2-for-6 with a double and an RBI for San Jose, which has won eight of the last nine first-half titles.