JUPITER, Fla. - Come Opening Day, it won't matter that the Mets left Florida with an 18-12-1 record. Or that the lineup hit .284. Or that in six Grapefruit League starts, Matt Harvey posted a sparkling 1.19 ERA.

The numbers themselves say almost nothing.

Real meaning, the Mets hope, will come from the way they looked and felt at the end of their seven-week slog through spring training. Based on that alone, they might have reason for optimism.

Harvey himself fashioned an appropriate end to spring training. In his final tuneup, which ended in a 0-0 tie against the Cardinals Thursday, he tossed four scoreless innings.

"There's a lot of positives in the entire spring, Matt being a huge one for us," manager Terry Collins said. "We came in hoping to find out what we had. We got the same guy that we saw two years ago. So we're excited to get him out there when the games start."

It has been a little more than 17 months since Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery. And by the time he takes the mound Thursday in Washington, it will have been about 19 1/2 months since he last pitched in a major- league game.

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And Harvey has established that he hasn't missed a beat.

"I feel just the same or better," he said. "Having that much time off, I was able to really work on some things and I was able to execute those during spring training and hopefully can continue that throughout the season."

The words could have come off as empty, except Harvey backed them up with performances that were virtually indistinguishable from the ones he logged before his injury.

His fastball crackled throughout spring training. And just as he did in his first Grapefruit League outing, Harvey touched 98 mph on the radar gun, as if to leave no doubt about his readiness.

Regaining command typically poses problems for pitchers coming off elbow surgery. Harvey has been the exception. In six starts, he finished with 21 strikeouts and one walk.

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"I think all the work has been put in," Harvey said. "It's time to just let all that loose."

Despite his dominant performances, the Mets insist that they will remain mindful of Harvey's workload in his first season after surgery.

Collins said Harvey could be capped at about 90 pitches against the Nationals, though pitching coach Dan Warthen put that number at 100.

"We have a set of guidelines," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "So we'll keep those in mind."

Perhaps most important, Harvey insisted that he reached every goal he set for himself in spring training.

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He made every scheduled start.

He sharpened his command.

He pushed his pitch count.

Mostly, Harvey put surgery further behind in his rearview mirror, perhaps the highlight of what Collins called "a real good spring for us."

After two games against the Rangers beginning Friday in Arlington, Texas, the records, the batting average and the earned- run averages will reset to zero. But to Alderson, spring training represented something more than numbers.

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Said the GM: "I think the optimism that the players have is warranted."