Mets think they've pinpointed Harvey's issue

Mets think they've pinpointed Harvey's issue

NEW YORK -- Matt Harvey took to the Citi Field mound again on Friday afternoon, midway between his latest loss and his next big test, and for the second time in two weeks, asked an empty stadium for answers.

The Mets believe they've pinpointed the root of Harvey's issues -- a mechanical flaw that flares up as he pitches deeper into games. Only a few Mets are aware of the specifics of the habit that's led to Harvey's 7.56 May ERA. Manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen headline an exclusive group that includes Matt Reynolds and Alejandro De Aza, who were summoned to stand in against Harvey and report on his progress.

Collins says Harvey isn't tipping his pitches but remained tight-lipped beyond that.

"The second time through the order, we're seeing things he's doing that are keeping him from having the ability to make the pitches he needs to make," Collins said. "We're seeing a velocity drop, and there is a reason for that. We're seeing a lack of a feel for his breaking ball."

So it's clear what is happening, at least to some. What's also clear is that batters are slashing .241/.292/.373 the first time they face Harvey, .301/.326/.518 the second time. The third time through the order, batters are hitting him at a .509/.563/.764 clip. So if Harvey corrects this mechanical flaw during his next start, slated for Memorial Day against the White Sox, and those trends persist, the Mets may want to investigate his struggles more deeply.

The next step might be to look at his pitch sequencing, which is ripe with underlying indicators that dig to the root of his rocky spring. Going back to his start against the Rockies on May 13, Harvey has been hurt by throwing predictable pitches in combustible counts and repeating near exact sequences to hitters their second and third time at the plate.

This is particularly evident over his last two starts against the Nationals, when he allowed 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 combined innings. Let's look specifically at how he attacked Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon, who combined to go 9-for-19 off him with four home runs, nine runs and nine RBIs.

Revere: No pitcher wants to throw the speedy Revere too many breaking pitches, at the risk of him getting on base and using those wheels. Revere has seen 68 percent fastballs over his career. (For sharp contrast, Bryce Harper, a power hitter, has seen 51 percent.) But Harvey threw 19 pitches to Revere over the two games, and 18 were fastballs. On the ninth fastball he saw, Revere rifled a triple. In the second game, Revere's double came on the 10th fastball he saw out of 11 pitches.

Rendon: Eleven of the 13 pitches Harvey threw to Rendon were fastballs. Rendon is a .288 career hitter on heaters and a .241 hitter on offspeed pitches, yet he saw only fastballs in the first game and then seven of nine in the next. He homered on a changeup that stayed in the zone, acting like a slow fastball without much movement or jump.

Zimmerman: In the first game, Harvey retired Zimmerman twice on fastballs he set up with sliders. He went with a similar approach in the second game ... until he didn't. Harvey went slider, fastball, fastball, changeup to Zimmerman in his first at-bat, and Zimmerman singled on the changeup. His next time up, Zimmerman saw almost the exact same sequence: slider, fastball, slider, fastball, changeup. The last pitch went into the seats, and Harvey once again paid the price of predictability.

Murphy: It would be fair to concede that Murphy is hitting just about everything right now -- his .393 average is a testament to that. And Harvey gave him the kitchen sink. After Murphy homered on a curve in the first game, Harvey started him off in the second with a fastball and a slider to get ahead. Then with two strikes, Harvey threw three straight fastballs. Murphy swung through the final one.

Two at-bats later, Harvey again threw Murphy three consecutive fastballs. The final one hit 94 miles per hour, and Murphy sent it into the night as Mets broadcaster Ron Darling lectured the audience about the perils of showing Major League hitters the same pitch thrice. It's a conversation becoming more and more common in Queens.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.