PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Mets pitcher Matt Harvey savored the opportunity to learn from a master. He had never watched Justin Verlander pitch live. So when the Cy Young Award winner came through town last week, Harvey watched the Tigers' ace closely, looking for any clues on how to achieve dominance.
Clearly, he's a quick study.
Harvey channeled Verlander Thursday, tossing 41/3 no-hit innings in a 4-1 exhibition victory over the Marlins. At times overpowering and always efficient, Harvey struck out five and walked none.
"I felt pretty good today," said Harvey, the 23-year-old righthander who is expected to play a prominent role in the rotation. "Today was the first day that I've been able to bring what I've been working on in the bullpen onto the mound. It felt pretty good."
Working with efficiency will be key for Harvey this season, when for the first time he will not be held to a hard innings cap.
Although starting pitching figures to be the Mets' strength, questions remain whether the group can absorb the loss of R.A. Dickey and the 2332/3 innings he logged last season. But Harvey could go a long way toward alleviating those concerns if he achieves the goal he set as he trained during the offseason -- cracking the 200-inning barrier.
"If this guy pitches 215 innings, that means he's getting deep in the game," manager Terry Collins said. "And the only way to do that is to do what you saw today, and pitch to contact. Know when you've got to get a strikeout, but get some easy outs."
In his last outing, Harvey lasted only 22/3 innings before reaching his pitch limit. But on Thursday, he cruised into the fifth inning, finishing at 48 pitches before he was pulled.
"Obviously, going 41/3 is the longest I've gone so far, and I felt pretty good,'' he said. "I think Terry asked me if I had 10 more pitches and I told him I had plenty more. So, definitely pleased with that. The hard offseason work is obviously paying off."
From the beginning, catcher Anthony Recker said Harvey looked to be in midseason form.
"He was definitely locked in," Recker said. "Just over on the mound, on the side warming up, he was definitely locked in, throwing strikes, down in the zone. Then he went out there and took it into the game, which is really impressive and tough to do. He did that today and it was fun to catch."
In addition to throwing more strikes, Harvey focused on improving his changeup, an inconsistent part of his repertoire last season. He also worked on a mechanical fix.
In his previous start, he found himself throwing across his body, partly because his landing leg drifted off to the side. After reviewing his delivery on video, Harvey entered the start determined to make the fix.
Just as he's done since high school, he began each inning by drawing a line in the dirt. It extended straight from the rubber toward the plate. He used it as a guide for his landing foot. Said Harvey: "I was on the line pretty much every single time today."
"He's on a mission to be real good," Collins said. "When you bring something up to him, he applies himself."