ATLANTA — Without their best hitter in Yoenis Cespedes, and without their best pitcher in Noah Syndergaard, the Mets hold little margin for error. Pulling out of the tailspin that has shaped this season will require more from those who are still able-bodied enough to stay on the field.
In that regard, Tuesday night’s 9-7 loss to the Braves only brought more reason for concern.
Matt Harvey looked like a shell of his former self, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud left the game after six innings with lingering soreness in his bothersome right wrist. And though Jay Bruce hit a pair of homers including a grand slam in the ninth, the outburst only obscured the real takeaway.
Two weeks after initially suffering the injury, d’Arnaud’s wrist is still prone to flare-ups, this one coming after feeling something “funky” after a swing. Meanwhile, Harvey still looks like a pitcher feeling the effects of an operation to correct thoracic outlet syndrome.
“He’s coming back from a surgery where not a lot of guys have really come back to be 100 percent again,” manager Terry Collins said.
With Syndergaard out indefinitely with a partially torn lat, the Mets need the rest of the rotation to step fill the void. But Harvey went just 5 1⁄3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits while continuing a disturbing trend. He finished with just two strikeouts, giving him five in his last three starts, a staggering dropoff that he attributes to poor location.
During that span, he’s pitching to an 8.10 ERA, though he scrambled to find positives on an otherwise forgettable night.
“Today was the best that I’ve felt in a long time,” Harvey said. “I could throw the ball the way I wanted to and I felt like it was coming out better than it has in a couple of years.”
Indeed, Harvey’s fastball reached 96 mph, an uptick in his velocity. And d’Arnaud called his stuff “phenomenal,” even though at least one scout in attendance disputed that notion. Certainly, the results did not square that perception.
In his last outing, Harvey was pressed into duty on short notice, a factor in an outing in which he surrendered six runs. But this time, he had plenty of time to prepare and the results were nearly identical.
The Mets gifted Harvey a 2-0 lead in the first courtesy of a two-run homer by Bruce, his seventh of the season. It was short-lived when Freddie Freeman pounded a slider that badly missed its target.
In the fourth, with the Mets down 4-3, Harvey looked to throw a slider to get himself out of trouble. Ender Inciarte ripped it to right for a two-run single, his third RBI of the game. It was part of a three-run inning that hastened Harvey’s departure.
In six starts, Harvey has pitched seven innings just once, and his latest performance provided a reminder that he is still a pitcher coming off major arm surgery.
Harvey insisted that improving the command of his pitches remains a matter of “fine tuning,” but scouts have noticed that his delivery did not appear easy. His fastball command was spotty, his sliders lacked bite, and he leaned heavily on his changeup even though his velocity appeared to tick up.
Taken together, Harvey bore little resemblance to his best self, precisely at a time when the Mets need it most. “When this guy’s on, what made him so good was great stuff and great command,” Collins said. “Right now, the stuff’s coming back but the command’s not there . . . His secondary pitches are really inconsistent. And that’s what he’s got to get a feel for.”