Steven Matz On Joining Blue Jays’ Rotation (www.mlb.com)

TORONTO — Coming out of the shutdown ahead of the shortened 2020 season, Blue Jays left-hander Steven Matz had a little extra zip on his sinker.
For a pitcher in today’s game, that’s tempting to chase and, when you find that extra bump of velocity, you hold on tight.
“You

TORONTO — Coming out of the shutdown ahead of the shortened 2020 season, Blue Jays left-hander Steven Matz had a little extra zip on his sinker.

For a pitcher in today’s game, that’s tempting to chase and, when you find that extra bump of velocity, you hold on tight.

“You see where the game is going, and then, all of the sudden, I had all of this time in quarantine and I show up throwing a little bit harder. I’m like, ‘Oh, man, this is cool. I can start to try to ramp up,’” Matz said Friday after

for three prospects.

The change wasn’t natural to Matz, though. With his sinker averaging 94.5 mph, the highest since his rookie year in 2015, Matz lost a bit of movement on the pitch compared to when he was at his best in ’18-19, working about one mph lower on average.

We’re talking about very small margins, but that’s all it takes. The results can be especially noticeable when that specific pitch is as important as the sinker is to Matz.

“It’s always been about fastball command. If I can command that fastball, I know I can work off of that,” Matz said. “That’s the one thing I’ve really honed in on this offseason. I just got a little carried away last year with starting to throw a little harder and stuff like that, instead of just going back to what I did coming up through the Minor Leagues into my big league career.”

Turning back the clock makes sense for Matz, now 29, given that he was such a decorated prospect coming up with the Mets. In 2015, he ranked as the Mets’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 15 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline, with a scouting report that said he was “looking more and more like a frontline starter.”

Matz hasn’t reached that ceiling over parts of his first six seasons in the big leagues, owning a 4.35 career ERA, but the Blue Jays clearly see something they like — starting with two fundamental things that Matz can control.

“The strikeouts and walks for him have been very, very good. The power to his stuff, we feel, plays,” said general manager Ross Atkins in an appearance on Toronto’s TSN 1050 Radio. “We feel there’s some upside to usage and arsenal mix. Very excited to get him with Pete Walker, Matt Buschmann and John Schneider. I’m sure Danny Jansen’s already thinking about that mix of pitches and how he can attack the AL East with it.

“It’s rare to find someone who’d had the starting innings that he’s had and also has the weapons that he has at that acquisition price.”

Matz is coming off a tough 2020 season with a 9.68 ERA over 30 2/3 innings, but the three seasons that the Blue Jays will hope to recapture are ’16, ’18 and ’19. In each of those campaigns, Matz spent the full year healthy and in the rotation. He views taking the ball and giving the club consistent innings as one of his primary jobs, and he’s capable of doing so when he’s right.

With a $5.2 million salary on the books for 2021, Matz was a relatively affordable piece for the Blue Jays to add, sending young right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski the other way. Both Reid-Foley and Diaz were close to being on the bubble of the 40-man roster, so this deal also cleared two spots to be used for Matz and, eventually, Marcus Semien, whose one-year, $18 million agreement has not been made official by the club.

Matz joins a Toronto rotation led by ace Hyun Jin Ryu and featuring No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, but the group behind them is crowded. Robbie Ray is back on a one-year, $8 million deal and brings true upside if he can find the zone, while Tanner Roark is coming off a very difficult 2020 season and is still due $12 million. Matz will likely slide in on the back end, but the Blue Jays have young options in Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Julian Merryweather, TJ Zeuch and others.

The ideal scenario for the Blue Jays, of course, is that Matz gives them upside, not just depth. Upside is what this rotation needs right now, and the group still likely needs a high-end addition between now and their next trip to the postseason.

Matz will be another project for pitching coach Pete Walker and Matt Buschmann, the club’s director of pitching development. The group blends old school and new school, as Matz put it, and he’s looking forward to learning from both.

The tools are certainly there and, as long as Matz is healthy, the adjustment he has identified isn’t major. That top prospect talent is still in there, too, and the Blue Jays are betting on it.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.



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