Matt Harvey‘s career has had more ups and downs than a drunk kangaroo. As a summer time call up in 2012, Harvey started 10 games for the struggling team and gave fans a taste of their future ace with impressive mound presence, pitch repertoire, and some gaudy stats (70 Ks and 42 hits in 59 innings).
In 2013 Harvey emerged as the Dark Knight. Every game he pitched was must-see TV and became known as “happy Harvey day.” He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Those who weren’t watching must have thought the hype was overblown as he only amassed nine wins in 26 starts. But Mets faithful fans know full well that his 9-5 win loss record was a tribute to a lousy offense that gave him terrible run support. Harvey’s peripheral numbers in 2013 were of the ace variety (2.27 ERA, 191 Ks and just 31 BBs in 178 innings). It earned him a start at the All-Star game at Citi Field.
Unfortunately, Harvey’s first full season was cut short by a torn elbow ligament. The ensuing Tommy John surgery and rehab cost him the last month of 2013 and all of the 2014 season. In 2015, Harvey came back strong, delivering a 13-8 record with 188 Ks and a 2.71 ERA. He was an absolute bulldog in the playoffs and World Series, despite struggling to rediscover command and confidence of his slider. Last year, this foolish writer had high hopes of Harvey rediscovering that pitch and winning the Cy Young award. Instead, he seemed to struggle with his control and velocity and was mysteriously very hittable (4.86 ERA over 17 starts) until it was finally revealed in the summer that he’d been suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and would be shut down for the year.
The surgery, which involved removing a rib from his right side to alleviate the stress on nerves, was successful, but the recovery would take time. Pitching coach Dan Warthen suggested that it would take a few months into the season before Harvey’s velocity fully returned. Thus far, Harvey’s fastball has been more in the low to mid 90s, rather than mid to high 90s. A smart pitcher could make adjustments that could serve him well not only now, but also later in his career, by relying more on location, breaking and off-speed pitches. Harvey seemed to be able to make these adjustments in his first four starts this year to the tune of a 2.87 ERA. However, over his last two starts, Harvey has struggled with command with a whopping 11.74 ERA.
Harvey was tagged for six runs in each of his two starts against Atlanta. Most troubling is that he walked eight batters in just 9.2 innings, while striking out just three. Adjusting to a 5mph loss in fastball velocity is one thing, but a look at FanGraphs charts shows that Harvey has also lost similar hop on his slider and changeup. His curveball remains about the same, but that was never his out pitch. Warthen and Terry Collins both said they’ve seen positive signs from Harvey and the pitcher himself is not discouraged.
“The stuff’s coming back, but the command’s not there,” Collins told the NY Daily News’ Kristie Ackert following Harvey’s last start. “His secondary pitches are really inconsistent, and that’s what he’s got to get a feel for.”
One thing working in Harvey’s favor is that for the first time in his career, he’s been getting run support, as the Mets have been scoring more than six runs per game in his starts. For the next month or so, while he waits patiently for his old velocity to come back – assuming Warthen is right about this – Harvey has to play the hand he’s been dealt. More than ever we need him to step up and, along with Jacob deGrom, lead a staff that is at less than full strength. Nothing less than the Mets’ season depends on it.