ATLANTA -- The Matt Harvey Watch now has a timetable, with an ETA that could be as early as Wednesday in Washington.
Terry Collins started the clock on Harvey after the Mets wrapped up a light workout Thursday at Turner Field in preparation for their weekend series against the Braves to open the second half. With the team confirming surgery for Dillon Gee, who will be out until at least September, the Mets need a fifth starter, and Collins doesn't feel the need to baby Harvey if he's the best option.
"We're in the hunt," Collins said, his voice rising. "This isn't a tryout camp. If the people that see him say he's ready, bring him up. I'm all for it."
It's not as if Harvey, at age 23, is a recent draft pick straight out of high school. The Mets selected him seventh overall in 2010 after his junior season at North Carolina, and he opened this season at Triple-A Buffalo, where he is 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts.
Harvey has 102 strikeouts in 98 1/3 innings, with 42 walks, and was named the MVP -- or Star of Stars, as it's called -- of Wednesday's Triple-A All-Star Game after throwing two scoreless innings at a peak velocity of 95 to 97 mph. The Mets aren't desperate enough to rush Harvey, but they're getting close, and the next few days could affect that decision.
The plan is to start Chris Young in Friday night's series opener, followed by R.A. Dickey Saturday and Johan Santana on Sunday. After playing catch Thursday, Santana said his twisted right ankle is not a problem, and that cleared the way for him to make Sunday's start. The final test will be a bullpen session before Friday's game. "Hopefully everything's fine," Santana said.
After Monday's off day, Jonathon Niese will start Tuesday against the Nationals in Washington -- and then it gets interesting. Collins could go back to Young on normal rest, which sounds like his first choice. If that's the case, the Mets won't need a fifth starter until July 21 against the Dodgers at Citi Field. But if the manager would rather give everyone an extra day, he could insert Miguel Batista in that spot or promote Harvey.
When asked specifically about Harvey, Collins replied, "It's a remote possibility. I'm not ruling out anything."
The Mets can't be too choosy. Other than the 41-year-old Batista, who is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in four starts this season, Harvey is the only appealing option. They just don't have much rotation depth after losing Mike Pelfrey to Tommy John surgery in April and now Gee. The remaining names are Jeremy Hefner, Garrett Olson and Chris Schwinden, who was just waived and claimed four times in five weeks before returning to the Mets.
"The guy that's here [Batista] has pitched pretty good when he was starting," Collins said. "Pitched pretty darn good, so he might be our first option. And if the determination is that Matt Harvey is the guy, then bring him up."
Collins isn't completely sold on Batista, however, and wasn't prepared to commit even one start to him. "I don't know," the manager said. "I can't say that."
But it's not an easy call on Harvey. Obviously, the Mets aren't completely convinced that he's ready for the next step or he'd already be here. They'd like to see him use his secondary pitches more frequently to complement his overpowering fastball, which scouts believe he relies on too often.
Still, Collins has received glowing reports from Buffalo manager Wally Backman, who also is wary of pushing Harvey too soon.
"Wally told me, look, he's coming," Collins said. "I'm not sure he's ready yet. But you know what? There may be a force feed."
That's the bottom line. As the Mets try to stay afloat in this playoff chase, it might be sink-or-swim time for Harvey. Their season could depend on whether he can do the latter.