What a Knight! Harvey delivers the goods

What a Knight! Harvey delivers the goods

NEW YORK -- Rain, wind and cold scared away some would-be witnesses of Matt Harvey's return to the Majors on Thursday night at Citi Field. But plenty of folks ignored those elements long enough to stand and cheer in unison as Harvey walked off the mound with a two-run lead in the top of the seventh inning.

It was not lost on him.

"I remember getting booed off the field last year," Harvey said. "So flipping that switch a little bit, and keeping moving forward, was exciting."

Pitching for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a rib last July, Harvey earned cheers for an outing that encouraged the Mets more than anything he submitted this spring. Holding the Braves to just three hits -- albeit two of them Matt Kemp solo homers -- Harvey gave the Mets 6 2/3 quality innings in a 6-2 win over the Braves.

It wasn't just the result. Harvey reached 95 mph with his fastball. He mixed in three dozen sliders and changeups. And he controlled all of it with aplomb, proving his ability to pitch effectively even if his repertoire has lost a bit of shine.

"As we left camp, that confidence was there," manager Terry Collins said. "Tonight we had to apply it. That middle of the [Braves'] lineup is pretty dangerous, and I thought Matt maneuvered it very, very well. So we'll just hope that it will continue to grow as the summer goes along."

Matt Harvey makes 2017 return

There was a point last summer, when he was lying in a hospital bed in St. Louis, that Harvey considered the notion that his career might never return to the heights he enjoyed as a National League All-Star in 2013. For much of last year, he experienced numbness and tingling in the fingers of his right hand, symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He struggled to pitch through it, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts before receiving his diagnosis.

Then came a new spring and a fresh bout of worry. Returning from surgery, Harvey struggled to crack 93 mph on Florida radar guns, prompting enough concern that the Mets actually took the stadium gun offline for one of his outings. Only in the final week of March did Harvey ease those anxieties, hitting 96 in his best outing of the month.

It looked a lot like Thursday's start, which saw Harvey rely as much on his slider and changeup as on his mostly low-90s fastball.

"He threw a lot more changeups than normal and a lot more sliders to righties," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Kind of the whole series, they were throwing a lot more sliders than they normally do. We'll put that in our brains and see those guys in two weeks."

The Mets hope Harvey will be even stronger by that point than he was on Thursday, when the team, citing caution, placed a limit of 85 pitches on him. He threw just 77, walking off the mound to the type of ovation he intends to hear again.

"I try and put everything behind me and move forward," Harvey said. "It's a new year. I have, obviously, one less rib, but I feel strong and ready to go."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.