Sometimes, long shots come in. The odds of the Mets losing a pitching matchup pitting a hot Matt Harvey against former Mets farmhand John Gant making just his second major league start for the Braves were prohibitive. But Gant was the dominant pitcher, and Harvey was the one who got hammered in Atlanta’s 5-1 victory Friday night at Citi Field.
Gant allowed only two hits and four baserunners in 6 2⁄3 innings, and it seemed his quirky, herky-jerky delivery was a puzzle Mets hitters couldn’t solve. Curtis Granderson led off the game with a double and scored the Mets’ only run on two groundouts, but after Granderson’s hit, Gant retired 17 of the next 18 batters, walking one, before Asdrubal Cabrera got the Mets’ second hit, a double in the sixth.
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When the Mets traded last year for veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, Gant and minor-league pitcher Rob Whalen were part of the package. “That’s not the same delivery he had when he was here,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of Gant, who struck out five and walked two. “He had a real good changeup, and he threw the breaking ball for strikes.”
James Loney suggested that Gant’s delivery, which comes to a full stop midway through his windup, might have affected the timing of Mets hitters. “He threw strikes,” Loney said. “He kept us off balance. We watched him on video. You have to be ready.”
Coming into the game, Harvey seemed primed to overpower the Braves. In his three previous starts, he allowed a mere two earned runs in 20 innings (0.90 ERA), walking three, striking out 17 and holding opposing hitters to a .127 batting average in that stretch.
Thanks to a lack of run support, Harvey (4-9) was only 1-1 with one no-decision in that span, and it was more of the same against the Braves. Friday night marked his 34th career start in which the Mets scored two or fewer runs, and Harvey is 1-19 in those games.
He sailed through the first two innings, but in the third, Harvey walked leadoff man Erick Aybar and gave up consecutive two-out RBI doubles to Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman to fall behind, 2-1. Jace Peterson led off the fourth by crushing a a 95 mile-per-hour fastball to left-center for a double and scored on a one-out single by A.J. Pierzynski for a 3-1 Braves lead. In the fifth, Harvey issued another leadoff walk to Mallex Smith, resulting in another Braves run on a two-out single by Nick Markakis to make it 4-1.
“You’re going to have starts where things go your way when you make bad pitches, and other starts where you don’t get away with those pitches,” Harvey said. “Today was mostly about mistakes.
“I threw some good fastballs on certain counts, and other counts I didn’t. It’s one of those things where you’re up in the zone and you get balls in the middle of the plate.”
Harvey blamed the leadoff walks on trying to change his approach to prevent the Braves from being so aggressive at the plate. “I didn’t make pitches when I needed to,” he said. “You can’t allow free passes. I did, and they capitalized.”
The Mets had one chance to make a game of it when Gant was relieved after walking Johnson with two outs in the sixth. Loney singled and Kevin Plawecki walked against reliever Chris Withrow to load the bases, but Hunter Cervenka took over and struck out pinch hitter Wilmer Flores.
Notes and quotes: After hitting .300 in nine rehab games for St. Lucie, catcher Travis d’Arnaud joined Triple-A Las Vegas to fill the DH role Friday night in Salt Lake City and went 1-for-4 with a double. D’Arnaud is scheduled to catch Saturday and Sunday as he works his way back from a right rotator cuff strain . . . On the final play of the game, Loney was called for double-play interference when his arm hit Braves shortstop Aybar above the knee.