Righty right to be cautious in 1st season back from surgery; club set to win now
By Richard Justice
Any reasonable person would conclude that the New York Mets have handled Matt Harvey with care. This is a situation they discussed from the very first hour of Spring Training.
Remember when Harvey walked off the mound after that first exhibition start? Mets manager Terry Collins reached to shake his hand after two scheduled innings, and Harvey joked, "I feel pretty good. How about another inning?"
"That conversation won't be funny when we have it in July," Collins said.
Indeed. At the moment, 31 pitchers had thrown more innings than Harvey. Fifty-three have thrown more pitches. In 25 starts, Harvey has thrown more than 110 pitches once. In his last five starts, he has averaged 98 pitches.
In this way, the Mets have done precisely what they said they would do. While not being exact about their plan, they always seemed intent on limiting him to 180 innings plus the postseason. And now, of course, Harvey is saying Dr. James Andrews -- who performed his Tommy John surgery -- told him he shouldn't go beyond 180 innings in total, and the baseball world is in an uproar.
There was always going to be some risk in this deal. The Mets had to be able to count on Harvey, in his first season back, to be brutally honest about how he was feeling. To do otherwise would be to risk hundreds of millions of dollars and a generational talent.
All the Mets could do was monitor the workload and continually take Harvey's temperature in terms of aches and pains.
But it was always going to be a close call. Yes, this is a special season for the Mets, who are in a position they haven't been very often in recent years. And the truth is, while all of us love how the franchise is positioned for the future, there's no way of knowing when the Mets will be in this place again.
But they were never going to let Harvey get into an area aces frequently get in World Series seasons. Madison Bumgarner finished with 270 innings last season. Adam Wainwright pitched 276 2/3 in 2013, and Justin Verlander had 266 2/3 in 2012.
Under no circumstances were the Mets going to allow Harvey to accumulate that many innings.
The Mets also weren't going to set a hard innings cap. Every team approaches these things differently. The Washington Nationals simply shut down Stephen Strasburg after 159 1/3 innings in 2012. Like Harvey, Strasburg is a max effort guy, and while there may have been a better way to handle this, there hasn't really been a better suggestion.
Even teams that have studied reams of data aren't sure. Maybe the Nationals would have been better skipping Strasburg for a start or two and then bringing him back. Those who thought that the Nationals should throw caution to the wind and push Strasburg to the limit are idiots.
There's no way they should have risked a career for the sake of one pennant race. Again, though, was there a better way?
The Houston Astros collected stacks of information in coming up with a game plan for two of their rookie pitchers, Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez. They sent both to the Minors for most of August. McCullers is back in the rotation. Velasquez, recovering from Tommy John, will pitch in relief.
But the Astros admit they're simply making what seems to be a smart decision. Are these young guys guaranteed of not getting hurt? Of course not.
And so that's the infuriating part of this thing between the Mets and Harvey. If there was a bad guy, we'd say so.
Sure, agent Scott Boras is annoying. He's saying what no Mets fan wants to hear. But his job is to protect his client, and he's clearly speaking for Harvey. He would not have announced a 180-inning cutoff if that's not what his client wanted.
So he's simply passing along a RECOMMENDATION from James Andrews, who did the surgery, that Harvey's season end at 180 innings. And on Saturday, Harvey said that's what he intended to do.
Is he wrong? No. Are the Mets wrong in how they've handled him? Absolutely not.
This is that awful place when both sides have drawn lines in the sand, and neither of them is wrong. It makes sense that limiting Harvey to 180 innings would lessen the chance of injury. But this is a best guess. The Mets might push Harvey a bit, and he could come out of it with flying colors.
Should emotion play a role? That's the business we're in. A lot of guys in that clubhouse, beginning with David Wright, have waited a long time for a season like this one, and Harvey is part of a rotation that could carry the Mets deep into October. How many chances like this will he get?
Here's guessing that Boras simply is doing what Harvey wants done and that the pitcher probably is more run down than he's letting on. He may even be worried about the health of that right arm.
Strasburg clearly was worn out by the time the Nationals shut him down in '12. He fought the shutdown, but his heart didn't seem to be in it.
If Harvey is the competitor he seems to be, he's going to die a thousand times watching his teammates play postseason baseball. It's easy for the rest of us to say he's doing the wrong thing.
There's simply no documentation on either side. There's no harm in being cautious even if it may not be necessary.
Sometimes things like this can galvanize a team and pull it closer together. Fair or not, some players will feel betrayed by Harvey.
The Angels actually got better when their No. 1 starter, Garrett Richards, got hurt last season. They rallied around him and finished what he'd help them start.
There'll be a different vibe around the Mets with something like this. But Harvey could rally them in a way perhaps he can't even imagine. As arguments go, it's a weak one. It's also the best I can come up with.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.