Steven Matz's career has taken a tough road early on, but the journey has finally gotten smoother.
Matz struck out six and allowed one hit over six shutout innings as the Kingsport Mets fell to the Rookie-level Pulaski Mariners, 7-6, on Monday.
A second-round pick by the Mets in 2009, Matz walked two batters in the first inning. The 21-year-old left-hander retired eight straight before Reginald Lawson doubled with one out in the fourth. He did not allow another baserunner after that.
"My changeup was working good," Matz said. "I only threw one breaking pitch though the first five innings, just using my fastball and changeup. One of the things I was working on with the pitching coordinator is shortening my stride. I shortened my stride up and everything fell into place."
Matz, who said his fastball touched 95 mph Monday, underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2010 after suffering an injury during extended spring training. He made his pro debut in the Appalachian League on June 20 -- almost three years after being drafted -- against Princeton, allowing five runs over 3 1/3 innings.
"It's been real frustrating," he admitted. "Just trying to stay patient because it took way longer than I expected to come back. It finally came along and everything worked out. It was a weight off my shoulder. Some guys just take a little longer. I was just one of those cases where it took almost two years to finally feel 100 percent."
That made it all the more exciting when Matz finally did get to debut.
"It was a little nerve-racking, but it was a fun time to be out there competing again," he said.
The New York native is 0-1 with a 2.65 ERA and has fanned 17 batters in 17 innings for the Mets. Despite not getting his first pro win, Matz was pleased with how his night went.
"I feel good, it just seems like the team has one bad inning that gets us every time," he said. "But I'm happy with the way I pitched."
Corey Oswalt (1-1) allowed seven runs on five hits while retiring one batter to suffer the loss in relief of Matz.
Maikis De La Cruz was 4-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs and Eris Peguero went yard for Kingsport. First-round pick Gavin Cecchini drew a pair of walks in the losing effort.
Jordy Lara plated a pair of runs and Dario Pizzano singled to extend his hitting streak to eight games for the Mariners.
Min-Sih Chen improved to 2-0 after allowing three hits over two scoreless innings of relief for Pulaski.