PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Among the truths that prove themselves each spring training is one about status and entitlement: When a road game is more than, say, an hour away, players of a certain pedigree often are not forced to go.
So when Mets righthander Matt Harvey got a look Monday morning at the Tigers’ lineup, he was surprised. And pleased. It featured five starters at the top, including Miguel Cabrera, who made the 2 1⁄2-hour drive from Lakeland.
It was a decent test early in spring training, and it was one he passed.
Harvey stretched out to three shutout innings and 48 pitches (27 strikes) at First Data Field, allowing a walk and two hits and striking out one. His fastball ranged from 93-96 mph. More importantly, he and manager Mickey Callaway said, Harvey was successful on a day when he wasn’t at peak sharpness.
“Being able to go three against that lineup and start creeping into their second at-bats through the lineup, it was a good test,” Harvey said. “Definitely felt good. Really not feeling as good as the first time, but being able to get no runs and be able to still throw all my pitches and keep guys guessing.”
The third inning was critical for two reasons. Harvey straightened out whatever was “out of whack” mechanically, he said, and he retired the top of the Tigers’ order the second time he faced it.
Harvey’s opening two innings were a little rough, including a walk to Cabrera (after a close pitch that was not called strike three) and a line-drive double by Derek Norris. He threw almost 40 pitches. Then pitching coach Dave Eiland got in his ear. Eiland told him to stop worrying so much about whatever was wrong and just think about throwing a pitch where he wants to throw it.
“The third inning, I definitely felt much better,” Harvey said. “I felt like I was able to let the ball go a little bit easier. Dave came up and said stay back a little bit longer, be more patient, keep your arm out. That minor adjustment helped big time. He really concentrates on one pitch at a time, not worrying about, as he says, mechanics, which I think happens a lot of the time.”
Said Callaway: “If you’re thinking about something mechanical when you’re trying to make a pitch in a major-league game, you’re not going to do very good. There’s a time and a place for that when you’re not competing in a game.”
Harvey answered by getting weak contact from the top of the order. Jose Iglesias’ ground ball deflected off Harvey for a single, but Cabrera grounded to third to end Harvey’s day. He left with a 2-0 lead in the Mets’ 4-2 win.
“The third inning, I felt better than I did the first two innings,” Harvey said. “Usually it’s the other way around. So that was definitely a good sign. I was just happy to get into some trouble and be able to get out of it.”
Through two outings, Harvey’s impressiveness (five innings, one run) is in part a result of improved athleticism, Callaway said. That’s an important development as Harvey tries to rebound from consecutive lost seasons.
“He’s much more athletic. The tempo in his delivery is much better,” Callaway said. “He’s getting the ball, pumping that leg like he should and delivering the ball athletically. He’s not thinking about mechanics. He’s just using his body and using his lower half to throw the ball. He looks real ly good.
“He pitched with not his best stuff today. Throughout the season, you’re going to have a handful of those, maybe more. If you can get through those, that’s huge. I thought he did that today.”