It’s spring training. We know. It doesn’t mean beans or predict anything. It’s only two starts. We know that, too. Even if the games meant something, two starts covering five innings is no sample size at all. But it is spring training and if you’re a baseball fan who can’t let your mind wander to what might be at this time of year, you’re more than likely to be miserable in August. Now is the perfect time to speculate, to fantasize, to picture that dream of a season that ends with a parade. Even the Cincinnati Reds are thinking like this, as are the Oakland A’s and Miami Marlins. We’re all still 0-0. The Mets are no different.
We fans are dreaming of the stellar rotation we felt we deserved last year. Last year, when everything went wrong. It’s been beaten to death in every corner that the fate of this team lays squarely on the health of this pitching staff. It’s been beaten to death because it’s true. In 2017 the projected “Five-Ace Rotation” dwindled down to a gallant, worn-down Jacob deGrom by the end and 92 losses is your proof. So far this spring, it’s been the opposite. Noah Syndergaard hit 101 mph with his fastball fresh out of the box. Zack Wheeler has been throwing smooth and easy and hasn’t yet walked anybody. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo – always seeming paired as an entry – have been quietly putting their own bids in for rotation spots. While deGrom has yet to pitch in a game due to some back stiffness, only Steven Matz is causing some slight worry, getting lit up like Luna Park in two spring starts.
Most gratifying of all, though, has been the appearances of erstwhile ace, Matt Harvey. With cautious optimism, it could be said that Harvey might be back. Not all the way back; it’s likely he’ll never be back to those dizzy days of 2012 and 2013 when he dazzled the baseball world. Not just in New York, mind you, but on a national scale. All-Star game starts, talk show appearances, celebrity spotting…2013 was all about Harvey. There was talk among older fans that he was the “Next Tom Seaver” – I was as guilty of this as anyone. In short order, Batman arrived: Harvey adopted his persona of “The Dark Knight, Savior of Gotham.” We lapped it up while Harvey mowed down batters by the bushel. We showed up in our Caped Crusader masks and made jokes about the Washington Nationals being our Bane. Then, it was gone. Like that. In August 2013, we heard about some slight elbow discomfort. Two days later, it was a torn ACL and the Dark Knight became our dark night: we wouldn’t see Harvey on a mound again until 2015. While it wouldn’t exactly be “The Dark Knight Returns,” Harvey did look like his 2013 self in flashes. He had himself a fine season and, as we all know, left everything he had out on the mound in game five of that World Series.
For the next two years, it really did look like that was all he had. Injury-plagued and media-dogged, Harvey has suffered through two miserable seasons. We began to speculate if he might be trade bait. It made some fans sad. This spring, he’s been quiet. He hasn’t been the media’s focus – that’s mainly been new manager Mickey Callaway and new players like Todd Frazier. He’s kept his head down and gone about his business: no swagger, no persona, no Dark Knight. He’s ditched the cape and cowl. He’s just pitching and pitching well, so far. Your intrepid columnist has been bearish on the prospect of Harvey’s return to full effectiveness, but he’d be more than happy to be proven wrong. Of course, this is also Harvey’s contract year and it would be the supremely Metsian thing to have him come all the way back, only to watch him walk away as a free agent.
For now, I’d take it.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.