The Matt Harvey of today is not the Matt Harvey we see in our minds. Despite the injuries and difficulties, to many Harvey maintains an air of impenetrability. His swagger doesn’t falter, even when his slider does. He holds himself like an ace, though he’s dropped down to No. 3 in the rotation.
But maybe it’s time to see things for what they are. Because while the Matt Harvey of today isn’t the hotshot we met five years ago, he’s gained something of great value in the interim. Forget the pitch count of old, this Matt Harvey gets trotted out in the seventh inning despite having thrown 98 pitches. When things go badly — and really, that first inning against the Nationals, highlighted by Bryce Harper’s two-run bomb, was pretty bad — he regroups. It may be too much to say that Harvey has been humbled, but it’s not a stretch to say he’s matured.
“The game was pretty easy for him when he first got here because he was so good and I think it toughened him up,” manager Terry Collins said. “I think he realized he has to, until he continues to build up the arm strength back, he’s got to pitch and I think he’s bought into that.”
The result Friday was not the type of performance we may have expected from Harvey years ago, but exactly the type the Mets needed. He was far from perfect in the Mets’ 4-3 loss in 11 innings. His slider deserted him, Harvey said, and he allowed three runs, including two home runs, and labored mightily in the first few innings. But with a pitching staff in flux, he gave them distance, and he gave them more than a chance. Let’s not forget that Harvey found out he was pitching only on Thursday, when Jacob deGrom reported to work with a stiff neck. It seemed almost fitting that Harvey Day (remember that?) was actually deGrom’s.
“I didn’t think Matt was very sharp tonight,” Collins said. “He kept us in the game. He did what he had to do…He showed us he can pitch. This is one of those games where you feel like you’re not 100 percent, but you still go out there and keep your team in the game. That’s impressive.”
DeGrom is slated to go Saturday, but if he doesn’t feel better, it will be newly-recalled Sean Gilmartin on the mound. Harvey’s seven innings thus saved the Mets in a multitude of ways. If Gilmartin can’t go long, and there’s every chance he won’t, he cushioned a bullpen that could be called into action early on Saturday.
He did so by earning his second straight no-decision on Friday, allowing four hits, with two walks and two strikeouts over the course of 108 pitches. After struggling in the early portion of spring training, his return to form has been gradual, but consistently positive, though Friday was a slight regression. He has a 2.84 ERA over four starts (up from 2.45), and though he still takes care with his mechanics — for much of last year, he struggled with a too-high arm slot — he’s previously said that he believes he’s improving.
Harvey looks healthy and more than willing to do whatever yeoman’s work the Mets need him to do. The days of him not showing up to a mandatory playoff workout (remember that?!) seem like a distant memory, and you’re more likely to see Noah Syndergaard’s Viking helmet in the stands than you are a Batman mask. But things change and Harvey, to his credit, has adapted.
“I still remember last year and different outings from last year when I didn’t have very good stuff, which was pretty much every game, things unraveled,” Harvey said. “For the most part, the way that I feel and the way the ball is coming out and being able to compete, going late into games, it’s completely different from last year . . . It was definitely a positive.”
After all, that’s what Dark Knights do, right? They rise.