Matt Harvey is one of the main reasons why Mets executives and fans believe they can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Harvey has no problem with that, except he doesn't see any tunnel. He expects a great deal from himself and his team right now.
Harvey formally will begin his first full season as a Met on Wednesday night when he starts against the Padres at Citi Field. Symbolically, he began Monday, his first Opening Day as a major-leaguer. The righthanded pitcher, who turned 24 last week, received one of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions. He was given the honor of presenting an American flag to a military veteran.
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"Being out there for the anthem, getting your name called, is something I won't forget," he said after the club's 11-2 victory, adding that Jonathon Niese's strong start will be a motivator for him and all of the other starting pitchers.
He also has not forgotten the progress he made after he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo in July: the fourth-best ERA (2.73) ever by a Mets rookie with at least 10 starts, 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings (second only to Dwight Gooden's 11.39 for a Mets rookie).
"I think when we walked in here [Sunday] and had a workout, I almost had a feel of last year, and picking up where I left off," he said. "At the time, I didn't really feel like it's a new year or anything like that. If I can keep that mind-set and just keep going from what I did last year, I think that will be good."
It was understandable that Harvey did not realize he has yet to win a game at Citi Field. He did pitch well there, with a 1.88 ERA despite his 0-2 record. Generally, he is very observant. He knows that the hope is down the road a little. With a locker next to Zack Wheeler's in spring training, he saw all the live young arms in camp.
That is all fine. But as Harvey said in Port St. Lucie last month, "Obviously, everybody looks forward to the future, but we're here to win now."
"Now" could be a challenge. The sophomore jinx is not some mystical curse. It is a reality based on hitters catching up to young pitchers and vice versa.
"If they've never seen you before, they're leery about what you can do and what you've got," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "After they've seen you once or twice, now you'd better pitch. That's why some guys who never make adjustments get hit around. They don't make the adjustments and the hitter does. That's not Matt Harvey, I can assure you of that."
The manager mentioned how Harvey embraced the suggestion to work on his changeup, throwing it often and effectively in exhibition games, becoming more efficient and retiring batters on fewer pitches. "He has made adjustments himself already," Collins said.
Harvey seems to relish the preparation, and he does not in the least mind the expectation.
"I've always wanted to be the best, no matter where it was, no matter what team it was: Wanting to be in the limelight, wanting to have the pressure of needing to succeed," he said. "This is a fun team to be on, and I think we can do a lot of things.
"Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done in order to stay here, but that's the whole goal, to make a lot of Opening Days, and make a lot of seasons carry on into each other."