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Matt Harvey doesn’t have to be a superhero, says new manager Mickey Callaway

Mets pitchers Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard discussed

Mets pitchers Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard discussed spring training, pitching and their health on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.   Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Nothing has ever been normal when it comes to Matt Harvey. When he was doing well, his feats were labeled superhuman. When things went badly, his failures were deemed disastrous. Far from the Dark Knight, Harvey’s career track resembled Two Face: So good, or so, so bad.

Enough now.

Speaking for the first time this spring training, Harvey on Thursday reveled in just being normal: Working out without hindrance, preparing for a season without the confidence issues that have trailed him like an overeager puppy. Manager Mickey Callaway said that’s exactly what the Mets wanted from their erstwhile ace.

The Dark Knight is over, but a new day may still rise.

“He was labeled the Dark Knight,” Callaway said. “He might never be the Dark Knight again, but the Mets don’t need him to be that. His teammates in there don’t need him to be the Dark Knight and the guy he used to be. We need the best version of who Matt is today, and that version is going to be good enough. We’re going to create a culture here that breeds that and lets Matt Harvey just be himself and not think he needs to be a superhero.”

Harvey said so many of last year’s troubles could be traced to the fact that he pushed and pushed when his body wasn’t ready. The rib removal surgery he went through in 2016 left some residual nerve issues and he had trouble feeling the ball. His shoulder, he said, wouldn’t get stronger no matter how much he worked out. The more he tried, Harvey said, the worse it got.

“Getting nerves fully back takes a long time, and I was pushing through those nerve issues and trying to create muscle and it was just making things worse,” he said. “Mentally, that’s tough, when you know you’re doing work in the weight room and doing the right thing workout-wise and not getting the results.”

Harvey said his confidence has improved — in no small part from the offseason news that Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland petitioned to keep the righthander on the staff. His shoulder, he said, “is maybe the strongest it’s ever been.”

“I strive to be better than I was before,” Harvey said. “There’s no reason I can’t. I’m 28, 29 years old. I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”

He’s certainly banking on being better than he was last year — a 6.70 ERA in 19 games while battling mechanical issues, health issues and confidence issues. His velocity was down, the movement on his fastball waned and his mechanics were askew. Eiland said Wednesday that Harvey got into bad habits in an attempt to overcompensate for upper-body weakness.

“He can definitely fix it,” Callaway said of those same habits. “A lot of it is confidence and the ability to go out there and throw the ball where you want to. One of the things that comes along with issues that he was having physically is the feel of the baseball, and when you don’t feel the baseball the right way or don’t trust it’s going to go where you want, you become a more mechanical person and not be the athlete you want to be.”

Though Harvey refused to address last season’s off-the-field issues — he was suspended for three games for not showing up to Citi Field one day — Callaway said they’ve made very clear what they expect from him.

“There’s going to be an expectation that you have to take care of your business on and off the field,” Callaway said. “We can’t have things that happen off the field affect what we’re trying to do. It’s going to be a part of our culture to address that.”

Callaway wouldn’t have petitioned to keep Harvey if he didn’t think the risk was worth it. His stuff, Callaway said, isn’t something that comes along all that often and “we [wanted] the challenge of helping this guy out. He deserves it, and when he’s good, the upside is very, very high.”

And it looks as if Harvey is learning to believe that again, too. A normal offseason regimen has prepared him mentally and physically, he said. He reported to spring training early and in top shape, and repeatedly has corresponded with Callaway and Eiland since they were hired.

“I had so many different issues that led from that surgery that I wasn’t able to do a normal offseason, and normal workouts were tough,” Harvey said. “I’m really looking forward to staying healthy . . . There’s no reason I can’t be better than I was before.”

Forget the cute nicknames and all the fanfare. Matt Harvey is just a pitcher, and he intends to pitch.

New York Sports