PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - From the start of his long road through rehab, the warnings never seemed to be lost on Matt Harvey.
Command would be the toughest skill to recapture after Tommy John surgery. He remembered this even during simple games of catch, taking care to hit his throwing partner's target every time.
"I knew that was possibly an issue with Tommy John surgery,'' Harvey said Sunday after a brilliant outing against the Yankees. "So for me, it was really concentrating on throwing strikes and pounding the zone. Kind of picking up where I left off was very important.''
For much of the Mets' 6-0 victory, Harvey pitched as if he had never missed time at all. Never mind that it had been precisely 17 months since he was given a whole new ligament in his right elbow.
Harvey allowed two hits, walked none and struck out four in 52/3 innings. In his four Grapefruit League starts, he has posted a 1.26 ERA in 141/3 innings.
But perhaps most critical for Harvey is that he has issued one walk in that span, a testament to his command. He located his pitches with precision, the same as he did in 2013, when he was a National League All-Star.
"It's pretty similar,'' Harvey said. "I'm pretty focused on each pitch at each time, which is something I've worked on pretty much my whole life. Being surprised that it's come now and this early in spring training, yeah, I think I'm very happy with that.''
A sellout crowd of 8,205 at Tradition Field rose to give Harvey a standing ovation in the sixth inning when he was pulled by Terry Collins after throwing 60 pitches.
"He needs to build up his pitch count a little bit,'' Collins said. "But I would say stuff-wise, yes, he's ready for the regular season. We haven't seen any change in command since he walked back out to the mound. We've just got to build up his endurance a little bit.''
Getting to the point that he can throw 100 pitches might be the only major item left on Harvey's Grapefruit League to-do list.
Although he admitted to backing off his fastball a bit, scouts still clocked Harvey in the range of 94 to 97 mph, good enough to make trouble for big-league hitters.
"I think we know that I can run it up if I need to,'' Harvey said. "But as far as the workload today and how things were going, I didn't really feel like I needed to do that. There's always a time for that. But as far as today goes, I felt like I was moving the ball pretty well and having good command.''
It was his command, particularly of his off-speed pitches, that allowed Harvey to piece together another dominant performance. He faced one batter more than the minimum and extended his scoreless streak to 92/3 innings, mostly because he threw his entire arsenal for strikes.
"That's what makes him the top tier,'' David Wright said. "There's a lot of guys that can throw 94, 95 miles per hour. There's a lot of guys with good sliders. There's a lot of guys with a good slider and curveball. But out of that stuff, can you throw it all for strikes in any count?''
Once again, Harvey left no doubt about his answer.