David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
To figure out what the Mets are dealing with when it comes to protecting Matt Harvey for the September push -- and presumably into the playoffs -- doesn't take any fancy calculus.
After Harvey's brilliant performance in Tuesday night's 4-0 win over the Rockies, when Terry Collins wisely denied him a chance at the shutout, he now stands at 148 innings for his 22 starts.
The Mets, as they stated before Opening Day, would like to cap him around 190 innings for the regular season. At his current pace, Harvey is on schedule to make nine more starts. Multiply that by an average of seven innings, add on the 63, and you get Harvey all the way up to 211 innings by the first wild-card game (if necessary).
In the Mets' thinking -- and yes, we've heard all about the "data" -- that's too much for Harvey, especially with what they hope is a busy October ahead. So Collins felt compelled to yank him Tuesday night after eight innings (and just 97 pitches) with an eye toward preserving him for the future.
That was fine against the hapless Rockies, and Collins looked even better when pinch hitter Curtis Granderson drew a bases-loaded walk and Juan Lagares' two-run double turned a 1-0 nail-biter into a comfy 4-0 win. But what lies ahead will be far more challenging, and limiting Harvey -- though sensible -- is going to be tougher down the stretch.
The Mets waffled earlier this season, weaving in-and-out of a six-man rotation before ending the practice altogether when Steven Matz wound up on the DL. But they intend to try again at least once before the end of August with a spot starter, then hopefully return to a six-man in September when Matz is ready.
Shaving one or two starts off Harvey's ledger should get him into more manageable territory innings-wise and leave him with something in the tank for the playoffs. Again, that's the plan. Matz is expected to make his first rehab start Saturday for Class A St. Lucie and the Mets need it to be a seamless process.
"I will tell you this: We are going to do everything in our power to keep from shutting [Harvey] down," Collins said. "Any of our guys down. We've come up with a policy, we're going to try to stick to it so that in the big picture, these kids stay healthy."
Sounds great -- in theory. But the Mets haven't been to the postseason since 2006, and with Harvey nearly unhittable lately, it becomes increasingly difficult to pump the brakes with him. After a post-TJ speed bump, when Harvey had a 7.20 ERA during a four-start stretch, he's transformed into the Dark Knight again, with a 1.45 ERA over the next 10 starts.
In other words, Harvey doesn't look tired. By his own admission, he's pitching better than any other period this season, and also doing what he can to be more efficient. Pounding the strike zone, pitching a little more to contact than stacking the K cards. As for the Mets efforts to curtail his innings, Harvey understands it's necessary.
"At this point, you have to keep that out of your mind," Harvey said. "Just keep your head down and keep going."
Even if the Mets are able to hit his target number, that's only the beginning. The Giants' Madison Bumgarner pitched 52 2/3 innings last October -- including the wild-card game and three playoff rounds -- to give him a whopping total of 269 overall for the year.
The Mets insist they're fine with whatever Harvey's playoff workload is as long he's contained for the regular season. But we imagine he'll draw some huge starts even before that. This is a pennant race, after all.
"If we get into September, and we've got to have the game Matt Harvey pitches, he's going to pitch it," Collins said. "That's why we've got to make sure he's OK to do that."
No one knows how that plan will affect Harvey or the Mets down the stretch. But we're all about to find out.