Matt Harvey #70 of the New York Mets pitches during...

Matt Harvey #70 of the New York Mets pitches during a preseason game against the Washington Nationals at Digital Domain Park. (March 5, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The Mets wanted to take their time with Matt Harvey. When their rotation began to dismantle, they said that despite blazing through the minor-league system, he wasn't ready. When circumstances screamed for a starter, they chose 41-year-old Miguel Batista, momentarily unwilling to put one of their top prospects in an untenable position.

But whether it be caution or coddling, the Mets now no longer have the luxury of saving Harvey for a less stressful day. After a 5-2 loss to the Nationals Wednesday they're 1-11 since the All-Star break and caught in the midst of a season-defining swoon. For all the talk of not putting Harvey in a situation where he can fail, the 23-year-old righthander makes his major-league debut Thursday night at Arizona in a situation where the Mets absolutely need him to succeed.

"I [wanted] to avoid that if I can," manager Terry Collins said Wednesday. "But it is what it is. So he's just going to have to realize that there's lots of things that come with pitching in the big leagues and one of them may be to stop a losing streak."

The Mets' post-All-Star break record is second-worst only to the 1962 season, when they went 1-14. More so, the losses have been demoralizing, underlined by injuries to Dillon Gee and Johan Santana, and by R.A. Dickey's backslide to mere mortal. Wednesday's game was closely followed by a verbal lashing from Collins, who said team members weren't taking accountability for the downturn.

Harvey's start against Diamondbacks rookie Wade Miley marks the beginning of a grueling 11-game West Coast road trip. Miley (11-5, 3.02 ERA), the third All-Star in a row to start against the Mets, is having a standout season, and leads Arizona's rotation in wins and ERA.

The task is daunting, but Harvey has shown signs that he's ready. He was the Mets' No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft and posted a 3.68 in 110 innings with Triple-A Buffalo this season, going 7-5 while striking out 112 batters in his second year in the minors. Control issues (48 walks) led general manager Sandy Alderson to delay his promotion.

Not that Alderson or the Mets can worry too much about small particulars now. Thanks to their MLB-worst 6.05 bullpen ERA, the team simply needs starters who can go deep into games.

"Pitch," Collins recalled saying to Harvey. "Go pitch . . . Do what you've been doing, it's the same thing, it's the same game. You've got to make pitches. If you don't make pitches, you're going to get hit hard."

Though Harvey wasn't available for comment Wednesday, he's said repeatedly that he's not Superman and can't single-handedly save this team.

Still, Collins offered hope that even if he's not saving the day Thursday night, Harvey may be a big part of that in the future.

"He's got a good approach," Collins said. "He doesn't want to be just a guy. He wants to be the guy."

Wish granted.


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