Matt Harvey was wearing a uniform with orange accents Saturday night at Ed Smith Stadium. Otherwise, this Harvey showed little resemblance to the Dark Knight who once stalked Flushing in what feels like a lifetime ago, and that should hardly be surprising.
The scoreboard radar gun had Harvey’s fastball sitting around 91-92 mph, though a few 93s popped up with a max of 94. At the peak of his Gotham powers, that was Harvey’s slider.
In those days, his fastball zipped at 99 for the Mets, and Harvey delivered it with an old-school meanness. He has to be more evasive now, and early on, the Yankees weren’t tricked into chasing his off-speed stuff.
Even so, Harvey struck out DJ LeMahieu on three pitches to open the game, the third strike a questionable call on a 92-mph fastball that looked low. He also whiffed Gary Sanchez swinging for the final out of the first inning, again with a 92-mph fastball.
Those were Harvey’s only two strikeouts, and he entered Saturday night with a 7.11 ERA in two previous spring training starts. But the Yankees’ only hit (and run) off Harvey in his four innings came on Gio Urshela’s homer leading off the second inning. Urshela hammered Harvey’s fastest pitch of the night (from what I saw registered), a 94-mph fastball, and hit a drive that cleared the centerfield wall.
The whole downshifting process has required some adjustment from Harvey.
"Yeah, I think stepping back and realizing that pretty much every starter nowadays is throwing mid-to-upper 90s," he said after Saturday’s start. "I wouldn’t say I was the first one to ever do it, but it seemed like I kind of started the trend with that. Now I’m not throwing 100 anymore, so I don’t quite have the hop and all that stuff like I used to.
"But I think really digging down and actually pitching is kind of what I’ll have to do, and you know I can still get low-to- mid-90s, which is definitely I feel playable. Just have to be a little bit more fine with location and really just kind of learn how to pitch all over again."
Harvey seems to be moving in the right direction. And if he does crack the Orioles’ rotation, here are a few dates to circle: Baltimore visits Citi Field on May 11-12, with the Mets heading to Camden Yards on June 8-9.
In what should be a very interesting season for the Mets, a Flushing homecoming for Harvey would be something to behold. The Dark Knight’s return alone should nudge Gov. Cuomo to up the Citi capacity to 30% by then.
We all know about Harvey’s ignominious exit from Queens, and going AWOL before a ticked-off Sandy Alderson traded (banished?) him to the Reds.
Cincinnati is as far removed as you can get from his beloved New York City — and we’re not talking mileage.
But all these years later, after failed stopovers with the Angels, Royals and A’s, Harvey — who will turn 32 next Saturday — sounds as if he’s doing everything within his power to make the most of this chance.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was the first-base coach for the Cubs when Harvey and the Mets dismantled them in the 2015 NLCS, so he’s seen him firsthand at his most dominant. This is a different Harvey, but it’s a version that Hyde believes can be effective.
"I think he’s working to get back to that form that was incredibly dominating — as well as the rest of their rotation was in that series," Hyde said before Saturday night’s game. "I think he feels like there’s still a lot of stuff left in the tank and he’s still got more to give and a lot more innings on a major-league mound. He’s really driven right now. And I just really like having him around. He’s a pro."
Harvey practically pitched his arm off for the Mets, needing surgery for both a UCL tear and thoracic outlet syndrome during his five-plus seasons. Some would suggest that blowing through his innings limit after returning from the Tommy John surgery in 2015 permanently derailed his career and cost him a shot at a $200 million contract.
The tradeoff? Harvey was a big reason the Mets played in Game 5 of the World Series that year, and he carried them into the ninth inning before finally giving out — as the Mets ultimately did upon his removal.
But that’s all ancient history now. Incredibly, Harvey is on his fifth team since then after signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles. If this isn’t a last shot to stick in the majors, it’s definitely in the same zip code, as the Baltimore franchise is in the process of a rip-it-down-to-the-studs renovation.
Harvey is trying to make the rotation of a club that has a 0.0 chance of making the postseason this year, according to FanGraphs. "Obviously, none of that’s my call," he said. "I guess if there’s something I could control, it was me coming in every day and working hard and putting myself in a position to make them make decisions."
Harvey was the second coming of Dwight Gooden in 2013. Harvey Day grew to be a phenomenon. And yes, way back then, he was a bigger name than Jacob deGrom. But only the name is left, and it shines with significantly less wattage these days.
For comeback attempts, however, sometimes the lower the profile, the better. Saturday night’s visit by the Yankees wasn’t televised, as few Orioles games are even on the radio. Harvey’s third spring training start was as cloaked in obscurity as possible for a major-league outing, with just over a thousand fans in attendance.
That won’t be the case if Harvey makes it back to New York this summer, and the Orioles will have their usual three trips to the Bronx. But the marquee event would be at Citi Field, of course. Get your popcorn ready for that Harvey Day.