DENVER — The sight of it all has been disconcerting, like a man with a fleet of Maseratis arriving in a dinged-up Hyundai. It doesn’t make any sense.
Such has been Matt Harvey’s season, which has retained an image-distorting quality that surfaced again Friday night, when the Mets’ ace looked dazed and confused.
“From one start to the next, it doesn’t feel the same at all,” Harvey said, following a 5-2 loss to the Rockies that called attention to his first prolonged slump in the big leagues.
After 5 2⁄3 innings of punishment that sent Harvey into full retreat, the embattled ace scurried for shelter in the visitors’ dugout here, his head down, his jacket pulled up, as if to shield a face that has graced the covers of magazines.
The Rockies tagged Harvey for five runs and 11 hits, the most he’s surrendered this season. It is the most hits he allowed in a start since Aug. 24, 2013, when he gave up 13 hits to the Tigers. Just a few days later, doctors discovered a torn ligament in his prized right elbow.
“My body feels fine,” Harvey said, pinning his issues on lack of execution, not injury. “It’s just frustrating being out there right now.”
There is no shame in struggling. Superheroes are a myth, after all. But when taken together, Harvey’s first eight starts paint a portrait not of a Dark Knight, but of an Ordinary Joe with a 3-5 record and 4.93 ERA.
“There’s two kinds of players in this league: ones who have been humbled and ones who will be,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “When it’s your turn, it’s tough to take sometimes because you have to learn to adjust to it, and you have to learn to bounce back from it.”
It has been Harvey’s turn since Opening Day. The righty’s raw power and guile made him into an all-star and one of the best young pitchers in baseball. But against the Rockies, he looked like anybody else, forced to live with his own imperfections.
The Mets (21-14) fell to 4-5 on their 11-game western trip and dipped a game behind the Nationals in the standings, though to blame it squarely on Harvey would be an oversimplification.
Leftfielder Michael Conforto misplayed a single into a run-scoring triple by Gerardo Parra. The Mets got a two-run double from Kevin Plawecki, but nothing else against Rockies righty Jon Gray.
Meanwhile, a lesser pitcher would have been subjected to a harsher night. Harvey got a double play to hold the Rockies to two runs in the fourth. He kept them to one run in the fifth, despite runners on second and third with nobody out.
But grit won’t be enough.
Said Collins: “It’s a work in progress.”
Harvey’s dominant return from Tommy John surgery last season helped to power the Mets’ first trip to the World Series since 2000. But Friday offered up another reason to wonder if the 216 innings in his first year back from surgery has taken a lingering toll on his arm.
His latest setback comes after what appeared to be a quantum leap forward. His fastball had averaged 96.5 mph against the Padres on Sunday, eclipsing the 96 mph he averaged a season ago. He struck out 10, a season high.
But in his first career start in the thin air of Coors Field, Harvey’s fastball averaged 93.2 mph, his lowest of the season. He touched 95 mph, though not after the third inning. His command disintegrated, following a familiar pattern in which the middle frames are his kryptonite.
He leaned on sliders and changeups, finding success until be began missing his spots. Harvey threw 101 pitches, and afterward, he admitted to overthinking on every single one.
Not since he was a sophomore at North Carolina has Harvey struggled so badly. He clung to his one saving grace: It is only May and he will have chances to turn it around.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “But there’s another day tomorrow and it’s a long season. There’s a lot of hope in that regard.”