Matt Harvey's outing in Wednesday night's 2-0 loss to the Nationals came with a few flaws.
Certainly, Harvey could have done a better job of getting quicker outs. Had he managed to locate his offspeed pitches early in the count, he likely wouldn't have needed to be relieved after throwing 106 pitches by the sixth inning.
"The biggest thing, like I said, is going deeper into games and figuring it out sooner and not pressing to go for the strikeout all the time," said Harvey, who finished with 10 strikeouts, just one short of the 11 he fanned in his impressive big league debut.
With time, Harvey figures to improve on his efficiency.
However, Harvey's outing also featured plenty of encouraging signs. He struck out the first four batters of the game. He threw fastballs by some of the best hitters in the Nationals lineup. He hit 98 mph on the gun with a few of those heaters. And he generated plenty of swings and misses despite believing that his slider was flat and that his curveball was "not very good."
So, what made the difference?
Said Harvey: "Changeup was probably my best pitch."
Admittedly, he got away with a few that ended up too high in the zone. But when Harvey broke out his changeup, he enjoyed strong results. Of the 13 he threw against the Nationals, six of them generated a swing and miss, the most of any of his pitch types.
Specifically, Harvey used the changeup to keep the lefties in the Nationals lineup off balance. Those pitches looked particularly good when he used them as a followup to his lively fastball.
"This guy's taken the game to another level when he got up here," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
As Harvey discussed with MetsBlog.com last month, he has reintroduced the changeup to his arsenal, recognizing the value of the pitch when facing more sophisticated competition. Perhaps, Wednesday night was an exception, and that it's going to be awhile until Harvey ever looks that good throwing the changeup. But if his feel for the pitch improves going forward, it could go a long way toward expediting his adjustment to the major leagues.
Going into his start last night, lefties (.231/.308/.418) have fared better against Harvey than righties (.190/.293/.266), which is typical for most right-handers. When Harvey allowed a solo shot to Ryan Zimmerman, it was the first time a right-hander had homered off him in the big leagues. He had allowed all three of his previous homers to lefties.
But the changeup could function as a great equalizer against dangerous left-handed bats, especially those with power. In another encouraging sign on Wednesday night, Harvey remained confident enough to keep throwing changeups, even though a bad one would have left him vulnerable against right-handers.
Collins took the outing as proof that Harvey is capable of elevating his game, giving credence to a longstanding theory that Harvey had gotten bored facing minor league hitters in Triple-A Buffalo.
"There are certain players, and I've had a few of them in my time, that truly in their hearts don't believe they belong in the minor leagues," Collins said. "They belong in the big leagues. And a lot of times, they're bored in the minor leagues. Troy Glaus was a guy like that and when he got to the big leagues, his game picked up. Matt's has picked up."
That all bodes well for Harvey, who can use his final start on Tuesday to keep refining his game, such has keeping his pitch counts down. Even before his start on Wednesday, Collins essentially locked Harvey into a spot in next year's starting rotation. The right-hander's effort against the Nationals only bolstered Collins' belief that Harvey has the tools to thrive in the big leagues for a full season.
"This is where he belongs," Collins said. "This is where he wants to be."