LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This was Spring Training as the postcards depict it: a sunny day at Disney World, a tidy crowd of 6,000 strong lazing away the afternoon. Matt Harvey was on the mound for the first three innings of a 5-4 Mets loss to the Braves, but for most in attendance, it hardly seemed to matter. They were happy just to watch a ballgame.
Compare that to 368 days earlier, when Harvey could hardly tie the shoelaces on his spikes without camera shutters snapping all around him. Considering the amount of virtual ink spilled, Harvey's return from Tommy John surgery last spring may have been the most chronicled such comeback in baseball history; a year later, he's just another good pitcher on a staff full of them.
"It's nice not hearing, 'How's your arm feel? Are you healthy?' all the time," Harvey said after allowing one run in three innings, striking out one and walking two. "The excitement [now] is just moving toward the season. That's a huge difference."
A year ago, in his first official game since surgery, Harvey hit 99 mph on the gun in an over-amped display of strength. His manager, Terry Collins, wasn't particularly pleased with Harvey airing things out to that extent, even if nothing damaging ever came of it. Harvey went on to have a superlative, healthy season, finishing 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA.
That's not to say he didn't come out firing Tuesday -- he did. Throwing nothing but fastballs in a six-pitch first inning, Harvey sat 96-97 mph for most of the game. It's just that this time around, he wasn't as committed to giving the fans a fireworks show. To the contrary, Harvey had more interest in the times he struggled, like when a Wilmer Flores throwing error put runners on the corners with one out in the second. After walking the next batter, Harvey delved into regular-season form, mixing up his pitch sequence to induce an inning-ending double play.
That's the sort of fine-tuning Harvey hopes to achieve in March, without the dual crushes of media and expectations surrounding him at all times. Already this spring, Harvey has talked about sharpening up his slider, which he all but abandoned for most of last season. He wants to add extension to his delivery, crisping up his pitches. He hopes to improve his overall arm strength.
These are the things he can do when thoughts of surgery and rehab are so far behind him as to be irrelevant.
"We're trying to continue to get him to understand that we know he's back, we know he's going to be healthy and the process has to be slowed down a little bit," Collins said. "As we get into spring, they'll just start to put it on cruise a little bit, work on some things and get ready for the season."
It doesn't have to be anything showier than that.
"As you get older and get into more Spring Trainings, I think you realize how long it is until the season actually starts, and also how long into the season we want to go," Harvey said. "Obviously, starting last year, I was pretty excited to get back in there and let it all out. But as far as this Spring Training, I definitely think we all realize that there's still a lot of time to go, and work to be done, in order to get where you need to be."