Matt Harvey's chances of returning this season appear to be bleak.
Since undergoing Tommy John surgery last October, the Mets righthander has insisted that he would return late this season, perhaps even as soon as August. He made those declarations even as the club repeatedly insisted it preferred a course of caution.
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Ultimately, the Mets have won out, slamming the brakes on the pitcher's rehab process just days before he was set to take a major step forward. Harvey, 25, had been scheduled to throw off the slope of a mound Monday. But last week the team scrubbed the throwing session, with no set timetable for when he would be cleared to throw again.
After consulting with team doctors, general manager Sandy Alderson said Harvey would not be allowed to pitch in a big-league game sooner than 11 months following surgery. Under that guideline, the soonest Harvey could return would be the final week of September.
Said Alderson: "We obviously are more concerned about his long-term health and success than anything he might achieve this season.''
Harvey had hoped to return as soon as August, roughly nine months after surgery. He insisted Tuesday that he's on board with the team's wishes, even though he was disappointed by the decision to slow his rehab, and somewhat surprised since it came just days before a "pretty big milestone.''
"The whole plan, the whole process, is being decided by the right people, the doctors and the organization,'' Harvey said. "I'm always going to want to get back out there, but I can't put myself back out there myself.''
Even if the Mets somehow reverse course and find themselves clawing for a playoff spot, Alderson said it would not affect the team's thinking about setting a timetable for Harvey's return.
"It's easy to say now, but I would expect the answer to be the same in September,'' Alderson said. "That's a temptation that I would hope we could avoid.''
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mets maintain a slim chance of making the playoffs (4.5 percent). But the National League East has been a muddle of mediocrity, with no teams seemingly in position to pull away.
For all of the Mets' recent woes -- including a season-long six-game losing streak -- the team was only 51/2 games behind the first-place Nationals and Braves at the start of play Tuesday.
Terry Collins said he envisioned a scenario in which Harvey might return if it meant helping the Mets sneak into the postseason late in the year. But even Collins acknowledged, "there's going to be a lot of things that have to line up perfectly for that to happen.''
Alderson rebuffed the idea of the team's place in the standings impacting their decisions.
"If we're right there, there's a reason we're right there, and it wouldn't have anything to do with Matt Harvey,'' Alderson said. "So, it probably means that most of the other guys in the rotation have done well, and it probably wouldn't be a strong reason for us to change anything.''
Harvey said he has not felt any pain in his elbow during his rehab, backing up the Mets' assertion that there has been no setback.
Harvey will continue his long-tossing program, in which he has been pushed as far back as 150 feet. He also will continue pitching on flat ground, though when he'll take the next step in his throwing remains unclear.
Said Harvey: "I've hit every step extremely well with no issues whatsoever.''