David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
WASHINGTON - The good news?
At least Monday night's NL East matchup between the Mets and Nationals wasn't a one-game playoff.
There's still plenty of baseball left. The season isn't over. But should it eventually come to that, a do-or-die, wild-card scenario in early October, then maybe Matt Harvey is best considered a fallback option.DatabaseMatt Harvey's career starts
The No. 1, right now, is Jacob deGrom. And we're not even sure how the rest of the rotation shakes out as Harvey continues to feel his way back from Tommy John surgery -- along with trying to adjust to the capricious nature of the Mets' ever-changing schedule for their starting pitchers.
Though it wasn't realistic to believe that Harvey could simply shake off a lost season, crank up his repaired elbow and become a superhero again, what we're seeing from version 2.0 is considerably more human than many expected.
Or Harvey himself, for that matter. After Monday night's 7-2 loss to the Nationals, a head-scratcher by his lofty standards, Harvey admitted to having little command of his pitches early on. Though he was throwing 97-99 mph, Harvey's four walks -- including two to Bryce Harper, whom he previously had owned -- helped stake the Nats to a 5-0 lead after three innings.
"Everything was kind of spraying all over the place," said Harvey, who had only three strikeouts in seven innings. "I just couldn't quite get pitches where I wanted them to."
That's a startling confession for Harvey, but not all that unexpected after his UCL repair -- and the rebuilding process of the past 23 months. Coming off the All-Star break, the Mets lined up their rotation specifically for the division-leading Nationals, and Harvey -- despite pitching on eight days' rest -- was supposed to be the tip of the spear for Monday night's opener.
Instead, he may turn out to be the weakest link, with deGrom and Noah Syndergaard left to salvage the series in D.C. this week. Terry Collins was fearful that the long layoff would result in Harvey showing some rust, but the manager suggested the issues run deeper than that. It was his third straight start with four or more walks after having only one such outing in the first 51 starts of his career. Of the 40 four-seam fastballs Harvey threw, he got just one swing-and-miss.
"We've said it a lot about the late finish we're so used to seeing on all his pitches," Collins said. "I just think it's going to be a while before it's there. And even though we saw the plus velocity tonight, he's not making the pitches that he once made two years ago. There's balls in the middle of the plate that he usually doesn't make."
Monday night's loss can't be pinned entirely on Harvey. He did, after all, drive in the only runs with a two-out single. But the Nats also took a 5-0 lead on his watch. And by the time he righted himself, retiring 14 straight until his exit after seven innings, it was too little, too late.
"It was one of those games I needed to put up zeros earlier," Harvey said, "and I wasn't able to do that."
This was a Nats lineup the '13 Harvey would have torn apart, without Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span or Ryan Zimmerman. The piledriver was delivered by Clint Robinson, who hammered an 0-and-1 curve over the head of Juan Lagares for a two-run double to make it 4-0 in the third inning.
As any Mets observer knows, that was pretty much the ballgame. And Harvey had to sense it, too. Four runs? It took the Mets 18 innings to score three on Sunday.
Harvey wasn't close to good enough Monday night, and he knew it. Whether he gets better could very well determine how soon this season ends for the Mets.