Steven Matz has overmatched opponents since debuting in the South Atlantic League in April. But the really bad news for SAL playoff teams is that he's gotten even better since adding a twist to his game plan.
The 22-year-old left-hander showcased that twist Friday night, striking out eight over seven one-hit innings as Savannah blanked Augusta, 5-0, to advance to the Sally League Championship Series.
The Sand Gnats swept the best-of-3 semifinals, 2-0.
Matz (1-0) was stellar from the outset in Game 2, showcasing the recently built confidence he has in his curveball. Over his past four or so starts, he's put a focus on using the breaking ball to start hitters the second and third time through the order -- once he's established his 91-97 mph fastball.
He found his stride Friday, throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 22 batters he faced. The result was his longest outing since July 6.
"Usually, the first time around, I try to establish the fastball," Matz said. "The second time around, I'll try mixing in some first-pitch breaking balls, and that's been huge for me. Since that has developed, and it's really come along the past four outings, I've been throwing that first-pitch breaking ball for a strike.
"It's really showed its benefits, like today. I threw a couple of them and the changeup, too, the second and third time around. I've been using everything lately."
The 22-year-old left-hander retired his first eight batters before conceding a single to Jesus Galindo, who stole second but was stranded as Matz induced a flyout from Shawn Payne. No other GreenJackets reached safely against him.
The 2009 second-round Draft pick is a survivor of Tommy John surgery, undergoing the procedure early in 2010. He didn't make his professional debut until 2012, when he posted a 1.55 ERA over 29 innings in six starts with Rookie-level Kingsport.
The New York native made his full-season debut this summer and was stellar from start to finish. He managed a 1.96 ERA in four April starts and finished the regular season with a 2.62 ERA in 21 starts. Over 106 1/3 innings, Matz struck out 121 and walked 38, with he and pitching coach Frank Viola placing a high priority on working ahead.
Mets No. 5 prospect Brandon Nimmo delivered a bases-loaded triple in the fourth that extended the Sand Gnats' lead to 4-0. The 20-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .571 through two postseason games. He batted .324 with an .885 OPS in August, drawing 27 walks to put together a .473 on-base percentage.
Nimmo was plagued by health issues for much of the season but played in 32 games in August. Matz said consistent playing time has unlocked his promising talents.
"He's been great," Matz said. "He's been battling some stuff, couldn't stay in the lineup consistently for a month or so. Now, finally, he's playing every day, and that's been the key for him. The sky's the limit for him as long as he can play. It's all there."
In other action:
West Virginia 6, Hagerstown 3 (11 innings)
Pirates No. 6 prospect Josh Bell capped a four-RBI night with a bases-loaded double in the 11th inning as the Power evened the other semifinal at one win apiece. Bell took third on a play at the plate and scored on Jordan Steranka's single up the middle.
Bell was 2-for-5, while Walker Gourley finished 4-for-5 with a double. The decisive third game is Saturday in Hagerstown. Box score»
Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.