PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Matt Harvey squashed any lingering doubts about his readiness to begin the season.
The Mets righthander delivered his best outing of spring training in an 8-2 win over the Braves on Sunday, allowing two runs in six innings and topping out at 97 mph.
“Playing catch and throwing bullpens and preparing for a season, you really don’t know kind of how things are going to go,” Harvey said of his dramatic progress. “Obviously, the numbers early in spring really didn’t and still don’t explain how I feel about moving forward. But I couldn’t be happier where I am now and moving forward. I feel I’m ready for a good season.”
Harvey’s early outings featured a diminished fastball that registered in the low 90s. The results added more reason to worry that it could be months before he was at full strength after surgery last July to treat thoracic outlet syndrome.
The early signs triggered speculation about whether the Mets would be better served by having Harvey begin the season in extended spring training, where he could build up arm strength. But Harvey maintained that he simply needed more time, bolstered by bullpen sessions in which he proved to himself that he still can dial up the velocity.
On Sunday, he showcased the life he had shown during those throwing sessions. Though his velocity dipped as his 82-pitch outing went along, he looked no different from a typical pitcher preparing for the marathon season.
“Each start, I definitely started feeling much better each time,” Harvey said. “That was a big step, probably the biggest so far this spring.”
His signature slider looked sharper as the day wore on. His other off-speed pitches gave him reliable weapons with runners on, a point of emphasis going into his final major tuneup of the season. He will pitch again Friday in the Mets’ exhibition against Army at Citi Field, though his outing will be shortened.
“Very pleased, very pleased,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s been looking better each time out.”
Harvey has a 5.89 ERA in five starts, numbers that on their surface hardly look like signs of progress. But by Sunday, his focus shifted toward that of a pitcher simply brushing up for the season.
With runners in scoring position and pitching out of the stretch, Harvey minimized damage. He threw sliders to both righties and lefties. He painted the outside corner with his fastball, relying on late movement to catch the edge of the plate, a sign of arm extension.
Harvey even elevated his fastball, a signature part of his repertoire. Though he’s not throwing in the high 90s as he has in the past, he’s moved closer to those heights.
“I’ve been watching a lot of video from years past,” he said. “And a lot of times I do get a lot of swings and misses upstairs, kind of to change the eye level. Being able to throw a slider for a strike and kind of pound the zone down and then be able to elevate when I want to, that’s important.”