Harvey making strides despite lack of results

Harvey making strides despite lack of results

ATLANTA -- After giving up six runs for the second straight outing to bloat his season ERA to 5.14, Mets starter Matt Harvey said Tuesday night was "the best I've felt in a long time." Catcher Travis d'Arnaud called Harvey's stuff "phenomenal." Inside the Mets' clubhouse, nary a criticism of Harvey crossed anyone's lips.

But that did not jive with Harvey's results -- six runs, eight hits, three walks and just two strikeouts in a 9-7 loss to the Braves. At a time when the Mets need Harvey to be better than ever, he has offered little proof that he can even approach his old levels of success.

"It's command," manager Terry Collins said. "When this guy's on, what made him so good was great stuff and great command. Right now, the stuff's coming back, but the command's not there. It's really inconsistent. His secondary pitches are really inconsistent, and that's what he's got to get a feel for. Because if you can't get those over, I don't care how hard you throw, at this level, they're going to hit the ball hard."

The Braves certainly did so, from Freddie Freeman's two-run homer in the first inning to Ender Inciarte's first two hits, each of which plated runs. All told, the Braves scalded seven balls at least 97 mph off the bat against Harvey, including two Barrels -- hits that, based on exit velocity and launch angle, have historically resulted in at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage.

Perhaps more concerning, Harvey generated merely seven swings and misses. That fell in line with his five April starts, which saw Harvey produce the lowest chase rate -- just 22.2 percent -- of his career on balls outside the strike zone.

All told, Harvey has posted an 8.10 ERA over his last three starts, with 10 walks, five strikeouts and four home runs. Yet he offered only positive reviews of Tuesday's outing.

"I could throw the ball the way I wanted to," Harvey said. "I felt like it was coming out better than it has in a couple years."

The issue, Harvey said, is not stuff, but location -- as soon as he fixes that, he implied, he'll be back to his old self. But fixing it won't be easy. As Collins noted, there is not much precedent to determine when Harvey might fully recover from the thoracic surgery he underwent last July -- or, truth be told, if he ever will.

"Not a lot of guys really have ever come back to be 100 percent again," Collins said. "When you've lost feeling in your fingers, you've got to regain the release point, the feel of the seams, and I don't think there's any given studies that have said, 'hey, it's going to happen in six months or eight months.'"

For now, Harvey will continue to work on his craft in bullpen sessions. Following his previous start, he and pitching coach Dan Warthen pored over video, diagnosing a pitcher who "was fighting myself so badly with all sorts of different things." Harvey concluded that he "was all out of whack" with his mechanics, which he says he corrected during Tuesday's start.

If that's the case, he needs his results to fall in line with how he feels. Because with Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo injured, and Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler struggling, the Mets need Harvey as much now as ever.

"It's really hard on Matt because he sets the bar pretty high," Collins said. "He expects so much of himself, always has, that when he's not getting there, you can see the frustration. But he's making strides."

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.