The Grapefruit League is already a week old, and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen has spent several hours working with teammates old and new. When asked to identify a pitcher who has stood out so far, Jansen answered the inquiry with a question of his own:
“Oh, man. I mean, where do you start?”
After acknowledging that there are “quite a few new faces” in camp, Jansen proceeded to pick one: Steven Matz.
In January, Matz was traded from the New York Mets to the Blue Jays in exchange for pitchers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski. This spring, he’s working to secure a spot somewhere in the back end of the rotation.
And so far, he has impressed Toronto’s starting catcher.
“Just with how easy his delivery is and how booming that fastball comes out, and that changeup he can throw whenever he wants,” Jansen said Friday during an appearance on Sportsnet Today with Arash Madani and Stephen Brunt. “The guy’s got a plus curveball and a little cutter, too.”
Learning Matz’s repertoire is one thing, but it’ll take more time for Jansen and him to develop the type of trust and understanding required to tackle in-game situations. For all the technology available to players today, as well as the hours of preparation dedicated to understanding tendencies and probabilities of certain moments, nothing can replace the value of a pitcher and catcher whose intuitions are in sync.
Jansen gave an example of a curveball-heavy pitcher who perhaps doesn’t have his grade-A hammer on a given day. And instead, on that day, it’s the pitcher’s slider that is operating has his out pitch.
“You’ve gotta make an adjustment, right?” he asked, rhetorically. “So there is still a lot of that feel (involved), and our staff has given us the freedom to go, ‘If you see something, do something.’”
With pitchers like Matz, Jansen will have to develop that feel throughout spring and into the season, a season in which Matz hopes to bounce back following a statistically ugly 2020.
In nine outings (six starts), Matz pitched to a 9.68 ERA, 7.76 FIP and a 1.696 WHIP (all career worsts). On the bright side, his mid-90s two-seamer put him in the 73rd percentile for average fastball velocity, which helped him compile a career-best 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine.
Oh, and Matz has confidence. Jansen can already see that.
“He’s got a game plan that he’s been successful with,” Jansen said. “And now it’s just fine-tuning, really just getting ahead and letting his plus-stuff play. You can really tell (he’s a) man on a mission.”