Mets righty needs to show signs of improvement, but he has time to turn things around
By Paul Hagen
WASHINGTON -- The hot takes have been flying. The anonymous scouts have been polled. Calipers have been used on every bit of Matt Harvey's velocity, statistics and mechanics than can be measured. That which can't be quantified -- his psyche, his confidence -- has been speculated on at length.
All of which has left the impression that the 27-year-old Mets right-hander will be making the biggest start of his career when he takes the mound opposite the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. That Harvey needs to dial up the sort of dominance that used to be his norm. Or else.
Or else what, exactly, though?
Look, Harvey hasn't pitched in the style to which everybody has become accustomed this season. The 5.77 ERA after nine starts makes that pretty clear. And, yes, he's coming off his most abbreviated big league start, 2 2/3 innings against the very same Nats, a game in which he gave up nine runs (six earned) and was serenaded with boos at Citi Field as he exited.
You know, there are unconfirmed rumors that many outstanding pitchers, even some who were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, occasionally had an unsightly pitching line. For some reason, though, Harvey's seems to have made many want to head for the storm cellar.
Didn't we just go through this? Wasn't it just last season that Harvey found himself in the middle of a maelstrom that had to do with how many innings he should pitch coming off Tommy John surgery and whether he should be shut down and what his priorities were?
And didn't all of that seem really beside the point when Harvey made four postseason starts, including eight powerful innings in Game 5 of the World Series? It was a performance for the ages that lost none of its resonance because he insisted on pitching the ninth, a show of grit that was not rewarded. The Royals tied the score, went on to win in extra innings and celebrated that night on the Mets' turf.
Second stanza? Maybe we all need to take a deep breath.
Every game matters and this game has plenty of relevance, even if it's still only May. It's a matchup of the two top teams in the National League East. Strasburg, at 7-0, has been one of baseball's best pitchers. Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper is the reigning NL MVP Award winner.
Plus, the Harvey Question. The focus is understandable. The Mets would like to see him turn it around. Of course they would. As blessed as they are with an outstanding rotation, to have the Dark Knight at the top of his game every fifth day would be a gigantic boost to team morale and odds of making another run deep into October. Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Perspective. It's just that it doesn't have to happen all at once and it doesn't necessarily have to happen Tuesday night. Harvey doesn't need to have a Max Scherzer-like strikeout total. He doesn't need to pitch a complete-game two-hitter. Harvey just needs to start showing signs that he's on the rebound from whatever has bedeviled him.
"That's where we're going to start," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "My expectations are that he takes what he did the other day on the side and takes it on the mound. Not worry too much about locating. Hey, throw it. Get out there, get up there and throw it. If he throws the ball like he's capable of, he'll get through some innings.
"I'm hoping more than anything that he gives us some quality innings just to raise his confidence. Once that confidence starts to come up, he's going to be fine."
Collins is heartened by the fact that Harvey made it clear that he wanted nothing other than to take the ball and try, try again.
"Nobody's more frustrated than him," the manager said. "Just the fact that he said, 'Look, I'm not backing away from this.' You know, a lot of guys would have taken that out. He had a shot to. He could have said, 'Look, I need to get away from this.'
"But he didn't. He said, 'I've got to get back out there and I've got to pitch and that's the only way I'm going to get through this.' I thought that was the most impressive part."
Every player, from the superduperstar to the last guy on the roster, eventually has to produce. Some are given more time to find themselves than others. That's just the way it is, and the guess here is that Harvey will still get more rope. Also, if he does end up skipping a start or even retrenching with a couple starts at Triple-A, that will be no more than a temporary glitch.
As long as Harvey is healthy (and no signs have been given to suspect otherwise) and as long as he shows some improvement (a low bar, all things considered), patience makes more sense than panic right now.
So, yeah, maybe this really is the biggest start of Matt Harvey's career ... or else it will be until his next one five or six days later.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.