Matt Harvey has left us. Or, better stated, the Harvey we loved has. A combination of untimely injury – really, when is an injury ever timely? – slow recovery, diminished effectiveness and a little bit of his own bad judgment have conspired to threaten what was once limitless potential. Those first three conspirators are connected, of course. We knew it was bad during his magic 2013 season, when he was scratched from a start with “slight forearm stiffness” at the beginning of August. Within minutes, it seemed, word came out that Tommy John surgery was necessary and the rest of 2013 and all of 2014 would be lost to him…and us. Before the injury, watching Harvey pitch was pure delight, drawing comparisons to the two overwhelming pitching stars of the franchise’s past – if you need me to name them, you haven’t been a fan for very long. It got to the point where he had to be compared to a horse, for goodness sake. Couple his ability with a take-no-prisoners attitude and approach on the mound, it is no wonder he was beloved around here. When he outpitched Stephen Strasburg early in the season, the chant went up from Citi Field that “Harvey’s better” than the long-touted Washington hurler. At that point, he was. And in an eyeblink, it was over.
Harvey returned for 2015 and had a fine season, slightly less dominant than 2013 had been, but worth 13 wins, an ERA under three, an ERA+ of 140 and 4.3 WAR. We all remember – heck, it was only the year before last, but sure seems a lot longer ago – game five of the World Series, where Harvey made his case to manager Terry Collins to continue into the ninth inning of that elimination game. It’s been said many times that Collins should have pulled him after allowing his first base runner, but he didn’t and Kansas City tied the game in the ninth and yadda, yadda, yadda…
In 2016, we all expected that same Harvey fastball and swagger to be back in full force, but something was missing. We could tell, right from the get-go, as he struggled on Opening Night against those same Royals he’d smothered in game five. Through the first three months, he was clearly laboring and the tough mound bulldog we had become used to seeing was nowhere to be found. His season was done after July 4, his second consecutive start in which he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. He had developed something called thoracic outlet syndrome, something that required another surgery and the removal of a rib. Supposedly, the recovery time was a lot speedier than the TJ surgery, but all evidence this year points to his not being recovered at all. He had to miss two-and-a-half months this year with a “stress injury” in his shoulder, probably a result of altered pitching mechanics after the two surgeries. It also hasn’t helped that his personal life was splashed all over the headlines back in early May. In any case, since he has returned from the stress injury, he has looked dreadful, not to put too fine a point on it. It looks like he has lost his stuff, his command and his confidence. It appears like he is constantly fighting uphill and losing.
No fastball, no swagger. It’s a shame.
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