MILWAUKEE — Matt Harvey turned his back to the plate and stared off into space. It was the second time in the sixth inning last night that the Brewers subjected the embattled Mets righthander to this forced solitude.
First it was Eric Sogard who launched a two-run homer, capping a day in which he was summoned from the minors. Then Orlando Arcia followed with the first pinch-hit homer of his career.
From the dugout, Terry Collins began his slow walk to the mound, ending Harvey’s failed bid to turn the page after last Saturday’s no-show and his three-game suspension.
“Obviously, it didn’t end very well,” Harvey said after the Mets’ 7-4 loss to the Brewers. “It’s not the start I wanted to have.”
Starting pitching had been expected to power the Mets back to the postseason. Instead it has become their most glaring weakness, one that was on full display as this soul-shattered version of Harvey took his lumps.
“I think overall my last three or four starts have been terrible,” Harvey said. “So obviously, there is a lot of work to be done.”
Harvey allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings-plus. He struck out six, but equaled his career high with five walks for the second time this season. He also surrendered three homers.
“The one thing I hope is that he doesn’t get caught up in his own perfectionism,” general manager Sandy Alderson said before the game. “He doesn’t need to be perfect. He just needs to be as good as he can be at this point in time.”
But Harvey failed to meet that modest standard. The right hander insisted that both mentally and physically, he felt great. He said that there was no hangover effect from a weekend in which his professionalism came into question.
Collins even made a point of saying that Harvey had arrived at the ballpark early because he had been excited. Until the sixth inning, Harvey controlled damage, even without his best stuff.
That he had allowed just two runs through his first five innings was a testament to good fortune, and a timely strikeout with the bases loaded against Eric Thames in the second.
But his fastball velocity looked promising and his command was fleeting. At no point did he look comfortable. Yet with a bullpen that has paid the price for lackluster starting pitching, Collins sent Harvey out to begin the sixth against the bottom of the lineup, even though the righty had already thrown 97 grueling pitches.
“This guy’s one of our top pitchers,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get six innings out of him.”
After the two home runs, it was clear that the man on the mound was no Dark Knight, but a guy with a 5.63 ERA and a long road still ahead following sur gery for thoracic outlet syndrome. “It’s definitely new territory for me as well,” Harvey said.
For the Mets, Harvey’s night was indicative of a larger problem. Entering play, the rotation had a 4.89 ERA. They have allowed homers and walks — sins they sidestepped a year ago. And they have not pitched deep into games.
The Mets (16-18), winners of eight of their last 13 games, have been succeeding despite their starting pitching. Alderson did not sugarcoat this bitter reality.
With Jeurys Familia being sidelined, Alderson said the Mets may carry an extra reliever. He said the added protection might be needed to compensate for a rotation that can’t be depended upon to consistently pitch deep into games.
“I think yeah there’s that hope,” Alderson said. “But we have to be realistic too and look at the rotation that we have currently and recognize that it’s not what we had hoped at the beginning of the year. I think it would be foolish for us to say that the starting pitching is going to have to go deeper.”