ATLANTA — Steven Matz and Yoenis Cespedes returned on the same day to give the New York Mets a big boost.
The Mets have a long way to climb up in the standings. They’re 10½ games out of the NL East lead and six games under .500, but with 102 games remaining on the schedule, there’s plenty of time to turn the season around.
“We have a lot left,” manager Terry Collins said. “Now we have to make sure we work very, very hard to make sure Steven Matz goes out there every five or six days and Yoenis Cespedes finishes the season healthy.”
Matz pitched seven impressive innings in his season debut, Jay Bruce hit a three-run homer and New York beat the Braves 8-1 Saturday night to sweep a doubleheader.
Cespedes made a smashing return in the first game, hitting a grand slam to celebrate his return to the lineup following a six-week stint on the disabled list. The Mets won the opener 6-1.
Matz (1-0), appearing in a big league game for first time since last Aug. 14, gave up five hits, one run and one walk. The left-hander struck out two, holding the Braves scoreless until the seventh.
Matz had a bone spur surgically removed from his left elbow last October and began the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The oft-injured former phenom hardly looked rusty, cruising through the first five innings before escaping trouble in the sixth when Matt Kemp flied out with two runners on.
“I was able to locate the fastball away today,” Matz said. “I didn’t really have my greatest, sharpest stuff today, but I feel like I was able to execute pitches when I did and the defense behind me was playing great.”
Wilmer Flores got four hits, and went a combined 6 for 9 in the two games.
New York, which didn’t trail all day, went up 3-0 in the fifth on Bruce’s 16th homer. Pinch-hitter T.J. Rivera had a two-run homer in the eighth and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares added a two-run single in the ninth.
The Braves have lost 15 of 20 games to the Mets in Atlanta.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively either game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ll put that behind us, come out tomorrow and push the series.”
Matt Wilser (0-1) gave up six hits, four runs and three walks in six innings. He struck out seven in making his first start of the season.
Cespedes, back from a strained left hamstring, said he still can’t run at 100 percent, but he didn’t need to run fast after connecting against Luke Jackson in the ninth inning of the first game.
The slugging outfielder sent a drive over the left-center field wall and was able to trot slowly enough to soak in the moment and smile at his cheering teammates. He went 2 for 5, including his seventh home run of the season.
Robert Gsellman (5-3) won his third straight start. He gave up three hits, two walks and struck out four in 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
Sean Newcomb (0-1) lost in his major league debut despite allowing just one unearned run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked two.
STRUGGLING AND STREAKING
Flores raised his batting average 23 points to .333. … Mets SS Asdrubal Cabrera committed two errors in the first game, giving him 10 for the season. He had only seven in 135 games last year. Cabrera didn’t play in the second game. … Jose Reyes singled in the fifth inning of the second game to snap a 0-for-28 skid. … Kemp, who went 0 for 5 on the day, was ejected by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after grounding out to end the eighth. It was Kemp’s first ejection this year and the 14th of his career.
INF Matt Reynolds, Rivera and RHP Tyler Pill have been optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas to make room for Matz, Cespedes and RHP Seth Lugo on the roster. … In the midst of 18 games in 17 days, manager Terry Collins said the team will go temporarily with a six-man rotation after RHP Matt Harvey starts Wednesday. Collins wants to ease Matz and Lugo back into the rotation.
Mets: Collins said the team plans to get Cespedes’ input on how much he plays over the next week or so. Cespedes, who didn’t play in the second game, will take a wait and see attitude depending on how his body feels. “For the moment, yes,” Cespedes said through a translator. “Starting next week, we’ll see if I feel 100 percent. At that point, I’m not taking days off.”… 2B Neil Walker was back in the lineup in the nightcap after not starting the last three games because of an injured left knee.
Mets: Lugo (0-0) makes his season debut Sunday and his second career start against Atlanta. He’s been on the disabled list since the beginning of the season with right elbow inflammation.
Braves: LHP Jaime Garcia (2-4) will make his 12th start of the season. Garcia has a 3.21 ERA in 70 innings. In eight career starts against the Mets, Garcia is 2-4 with a 3.06 ERA.
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