PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — They have arrived here for years like an overeager driver in an orange Lamborghini, eager to rev up the engine while stopped at a red light, just for the sake of showing some might.
Never mind that spring training is a time for knocking off the rust and easing into the grind of a season. With Matt Harvey always pressing down hardest on the gas pedal, the Mets’ talented stable of arms followed suit, turning their spring training debuts into demonstrations of power.
But on Sunday afternoon, Harvey broke from recent tradition. In his first outing since surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, there were no gasp-inducing 99-mph fastballs like the ones he threw in 2015 in his first game after Tommy John surgery. This time there were only 94-mph offerings that one evaluator in attendance described in two letters: “Eh.”
Whether this was by design or by necessity, Harvey never said definitively. But as he works back from a surgery that has ended careers, it was clear that with this version of himself, things may be different.
“It’s been eight months since I played another team, so the biggest thing was going out there and trying to get my mechanics back,” Harvey said after getting roughed up by the Cardinals. “You can’t really get to where you want to be unless you’re facing hitters. Today was kind of my first step of getting my feet wet in game action, and I thought it went pretty well.”
Harvey was pulled after 1 2⁄3 innings. He threw 39 pitches, most of which lacked the movement that had rocketed him to stardom. Included in the damage was four runs and four hits, including a three-run homer by Jose Martinez, who golfed a 3-and-0 fastball that crossed the plate at 92 mph.
Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom lit up the radar gun in their debuts this past week, but Harvey reinforced that he remains locked in a world of mere mortals, at least for now.
Terry Collins insisted that he had no concern about the missing velocity. “I was very happy with what I saw today,” the manager said, noting that Harvey’s health remains paramount.
Harvey said he felt the proper arm extension on his changeup, saw crispness on his slider and finished with three strikeouts. These were good signs. But his fastball lacked life.
Scouts chalked it up to rust, a logical conclusion. Harvey hadn’t pitched since July 4, the last start of a season shaped by lingering numbness in his fingertips.
Harvey, who will be 28 before month’s end, went to the surgeon’s table after the worst year of his career. In 17 starts, he went 4-10 with a career-high 4.86 ERA. He emerged from the procedure maintaining that he is healthy, but Sunday reaffirmed that recovery is a process that can’t be skirted.
“It’s still early in the spring,” Harvey said. “Obviously, coming back from Tommy John was a little different story. I was kind of pumped up for that one. The biggest thing for me is just going out there more and more and getting used to facing other teams. But the velo will come.”
One day earlier, deGrom fired 97-mph fastballs with ease in his Grapefruit League debut, an impressive showing after his own elbow surgery in September. On Sunday, Harvey was content to take things “a bit slower,” part of what he called a “levelheaded spring.”
But not too slow, apparently. Harvey had a stiff neck that nearly forced the Mets to scrub the start. Collins said he insisted on taking the mound, a fulfillment of the pitcher’s own modest expectations.
“Honestly, I don’t have any,” said Harvey, who is likely to make his next appearance Friday. “I just want to make every start.”