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Matt Harvey is expected to get rousing Citi Field welcome

Matt Harvey of the Mets takes the field

Matt Harvey of the Mets takes the field to pitch in the first inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field on Aug. 7, 2013. Credit: Jim McIsaac

As they do every year, the introductions before yesterday's Mets home opener doubled as an informal poll, a snapshot of what the fan base might be thinking.

They revealed, for instance, that the jury's still out on shortstop Wilmer Flores, who generated only a muted response. A chorus of boos reinforced their loss of patience with Ruben Tejada.

Then came Matt Harvey.

The mention of his name sent a shock through the stands at Citi Field, which hosted the largest regular-season crowd in its history. The ovation left no doubt about how much he's been missed.

"Your home crowd is always behind you," Harvey said on the eve of his start Tuesday night against the Phillies, his first at Citi Field since Tommy John surgery. "For me, they've been great and they have totally been extremely supportive and very uplifting."

Now they hope to be rewarded for that support during Harvey's 19-month absence.

"I think for our fan base, it's going to be a huge day for them, because they've been waiting a long time to see him," manager Terry Collins said. "We saw the response when he pitched in Washington. We might have outnumbered the Nationals' fans."

On Thursday, in his first start after surgery, Harvey dominated the Nationals. Before a vocal group of Mets fans at Nationals Park, he struck out nine in six shutout innings.

For most pitchers, that effort would have sufficed. But upon further review, the Mets ace insisted he can do better.

"Ninety pitches through six innings is not good enough," Harvey said. "I think if I'm throwing 90 pitches, I'd like to at least get into the seventh."

Ever the perfectionist, Harvey intends to attack early in the count Tuesday night against the Phillies. He hopes to be "a little bit more fine" with his offerings and will attempt to pitch deeper into the game.

Collins, however, said the Mets intend to remain vigilant with Harvey, who is working under the constraints of a soft innings cap that almost certainly will keep him from exceeding 200 innings.

Harvey was pulled after 91 pitches in his first start, and the Mets likely will adopt a conservative stance throughout the season.

"We will continue to monitor his workload and pitch counts," Collins said. "And everything else that's involved in keeping him fresh and making sure we can get him out there throughout the season."

Harvey, 26, hasn't pitched at Citi Field since Aug. 24, 2013. That was his final start before doctors discovered a torn ligament in his right elbow.

"I know he's excited, I know the team's excited and I know the fans are excited," Collins said. "Even though today is Opening Day, tomorrow is going to be a lot of fun also."

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