Aaron Blair and Steven Matz have had two very different career experiences to date, but both will be looking to improve on their rookie seasons as they square off in a Saturday night contest in New York.
Matz, a second-round pick in the 2009 draft, had an incredibly successful string of six starts for the Mets in 2015, allowing just nine runs in over 35 innings of work (2.27 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 3.56 xFIP). He’s picked up pretty much where he’s left off as a rotation stalwart in New York this season, improving his strikeout and walk rates to notch a 2.60 FIP (3.03 xFIP, 2.71 ERA), rendering him around a top-15 starter so far this season. Needless to say, the Mets are probably pretty happy with his development and performance to date.
The Aaron Blair story has been very different in the early going. Blair has made nine starts between early April and the present day, and has struggled with control, command, and overall effectiveness. He’s only had a handful of effective starts so far and has really struggled with limiting walks: in only two of his nine starts has he struck out more batters than he’s put on base via free passes. Still, there’s no better time to improve than the present, and Blair at least rebounded to finish his last outing with two scoreless frames after catcher A.J. Pierzynski essentially yelled at him to get him pumped up and pitching with increased aggression. (For what it’s worth, Blair had one of his better starts in his major league debut against these very same Mets, allowing three runs in five-and-a-third innings, though he allowed two walks and only struck out a single batter.) The Braves have won just one game started by Blair so far.
For their part, the Braves have had absolutely no fun facing Matz since his debut last year. In his fourth career start, he held them to one run in five innings. Earlier this season (April), he allowed just two runs while pitching into the seventh, walking none and striking out eight. Mostly recently, he threw seven and two thirds shutout innings in Atlanta, again punching out eight and walking none. Tonight might be the night the Braves get some revenge, but it’s a hard thing to count on.
The thing about Matz this season is that aside from a few early starts where he struggled a bit with command and control, he generally limits walks and hot water situations. His last start in Milwaukee was not fully successful, as he allowed five runs (four earned) in six innings, but even then, he didn’t walk anyone and struck out five Brewers.
Freddie Freeman watch: since the conclusion of the Cubs series last weekend, Freeman has raised his wRC+ from 99 to 124. He’s hit Matz reasonably well (3-for-7, a double) in the past (unlike the rest of the lineup); let’s see if he continues his march towards a career-average line, if not more.