FORT MYERS, Fla. - Even Mets manager Terry Collins had to admit that Matt Harvey's sparkling outing Monday wasn't enough to wipe away the sting of losing Zack Wheeler to a season-ending injury.
"Getting Matt back is a lift," Collins said. "I'm not sure today is a lift. We had coming into this spring training what I thought was a rotation that was second to none. We've lost a big piece of it. Obviously, Matt can only pitch one of the five times."
That didn't stop Harvey from trying to make good on a bad day. He threw four scoreless innings in a 4-3 exhibition loss to the Red Sox.
In his third Grapefruit League start, Harvey looked impressive against a lineup stacked with regulars. He allowed three hits, walked none and struck out three.
"Overall, I thought he was outstanding," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "I was very pleased with everything he did."
Harvey threw 53 pitches on a day he was scheduled to max out at 60. More importantly, he looked healthy, threw more of his trademark sliders and reached 98 mph with his fastball.
"I couldn't be happier with how things are going and how today went," he said. "And how the workload is increasing and getting ready for the season."
Harvey's latest outing came as the Mets learned that Wheeler likely will be out for the year. It was just the latest bitter pill for the Mets, who the day before learned that lefthanded reliever Josh Edgin also needs season-ending surgery.
Harvey, 25, faced the same predicament when he had surgery in October 2013. But he has enjoyed a smooth road back, as evidenced by his outing Monday.
"I felt great to the last pitch," Harvey said. "So we're moving in a good direction."
A few times, Harvey said, he couldn't resist the urge to peek at the velocity readings on the scoreboard. And every time, he received reassurance that "I can still hum it up there."
Said Harvey: "I threw two or three fastballs that I could've sworn were like 88 mph and I looked up and I was a little shocked at how hard it was."
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz last faced Harvey at the 2013 All-Star Game. Though he sensed that the righthander's velocity might be a tick off, Ortiz said there was nothing wrong with a slider that crossed the plate in the range of 88 to 90 mph.
"His slider is very powerful," Ortiz said. "He had good command."
Of Harvey's pitches, the slider places the most strain on his surgically repaired elbow. But he has slowly increased usage, an encouraging sign for the Mets.
After Harvey's first exhibition start, one talent evaluator said the slider didn't possess its characteristic late movement and velocity. After Harvey's second outing, another talent evaluator said the pitcher looked "tentative" while throwing it.
But Harvey took an aggressive approach with the pitch Monday, throwing a half-dozen sliders, including one to strike out Dustin Pedroia.
"It started in the zone and took off," Pedroia said. "He executed, made his pitch and got me."