CLEVELAND — It is impossible to know if the first three starts of Matt Harvey’s season have been an ominous sign of trouble or merely an early blip in a marathon campaign. But after the Mets’ 7-5 loss to the Indians on Saturday, it was clear that this version of Harvey has never been seen before.
“I think right now if we’ve ever seen Matt Harvey press, this might be the time,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said. “He’s really trying to force the issue right now.”
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The day began with promise. Harvey struck out the side in the first and retired the first 13 batters he faced. But he walked Carlos Santana with one out in the fifth, and the Indians spent the rest of the day exposing Harvey’s faults out of the stretch, scoring five runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
In all three starts this season, Harvey appeared to be cruising along, only to have it all come apart. For the first time in his career, he has started the season 0-3. His ERA ballooned to 5.71.
Harvey’s early strikeouts were a mirage. He recorded just one more, finishing with four, and has only nine in 17 1⁄3 innings.
“Nobody right now is more frustrated than I am, not just today, but the last couple of starts,” said Harvey, who has allowed at least three runs in three straight starts for the first time in his career. “There’s a lot of things that went wrong.”
The Mets hit three homers, including a three-run blast by Yoenis Cespedes and a solo shot by Neil Walker in the eighth. That trimmed their deficit from 7-1 to 7-5, but it was not enough.
The Mets, who also got a homer from Curtis Granderson on the third pitch of the game, could use a bounce-back start from Steven Matz on Sunday. He will be opposed by former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.
Harvey was done in the sixth after a two-out walk to Juan Uribe that loaded the bases. By then, he had left the Mets in a four-run hole.
“We’ve got to figure out why he loses it so fast,” said manager Terry Collins, who acknowledged that Harvey might be working with diminished stuff.
Against the Indians, Harvey rarely flashed his typical fastball velocity and command. At times, his slider induced weak contact, but he didn’t miss bats.
Perhaps Harvey is paying a toll for the career-high 216 innings he logged in 2015, his first since undergoing Tommy John surgery. But he insisted that his body and arm feel fine.
Warthen suggested a less troubling culprit: faulty mechanics. When Harvey worked out of the stretch, Warthen said he collapsed his back leg, an old habit that leads to other issues. The result is a loss of command, consistency and velocity. The two worked on an adjustment this past week, but it didn’t stick.
“You get into a pressure situation, you do fall back into bad habits,” Warthen said. “Essentially, that’s what happened today.”
Harvey needed only 42 pitches to retire the first 13 Indians to bat, but when Santana worked a walk in the fifth — forcing him to work out of the stretch — it was as if he had fired a starter’s pistol.
Harvey’s final tally: 5 2⁄3 innings, five runs, six hits, four strikeouts, three walks, zero consistency.
“It’s there and then it’s not there, but that’s the same with the velocity right now,” Warthen said. “I see his good velocity, I saw it early in spring, I thought he was going to have a big year. I still think he’s going to have a big, big year.”