Matt Harvey delivers a pitch in the first inning of...

Matt Harvey delivers a pitch in the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field. (April 3, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

DENVER -- Matt Harvey had yet to be born when pitching sensation Dwight Gooden burst on to the scene in 1984, turning each of his starts at Shea Stadium into can't-miss events. So the rising Mets star has relied on old newspaper articles to give him a feel for what he might expect at Citi Field tonight when he goes head-to-head against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg.

"Obviously, I'm still new to all this stuff," Harvey said. "It's an exciting time. I'm looking forward to it. I know the extra adrenaline is going to be there."

If his own track record is any indication, he should have no issue handling the spotlight, which has intensified as the righthander has started the season by going 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA.

"I don't think there's any question Matt gets up for it," manager Terry Collins said. "He loves the big stage and that's what he's on. He's got a big challenge."

The Nationals' lineup, anchored around Bryce Harper, promises to be the most fearsome one that Harvey has faced. And, of course, there is the fireballing Strasburg.

The two share the same agent, Scott Boras, but Harvey said he doesn't know Strasburg well. They've trained at the same facility in Newport Beach, Calif., and crossed paths during Strasburg's rehab from Tommy John surgery. Aside from exchanging pleasantries, they rarely have spoken.

Both occupy similar places in their franchises, but Harvey played down comparisons to Strasburg despite all the hype surrounding their matchup.

"Mostly, it's just preparation and getting ready, and I'm not facing him per se," said Harvey, who flew to New York ahead of his team to prepare for the start. "You've got to block that kind of stuff out."

General manager Sandy Alderson said he's more concerned about the outcome of the game than the novelty of seeing the two young aces face off. Yet he acknowledged the potential for a special night.

"It'll be a marquee matchup," Alderson said. "Interesting to see who'll get the corners."

Collins recalls the way Harvey responded to his call-up last season, seemingly raising his game overnight upon his arrival in the majors in late July.

"The reason is the stage changed," Collins said of Harvey, who fanned 11 in his debut. "What we saw on the mound, his demeanor and everything else, changed."

In a way, the evolution has continued. One longtime talent evaluator mirrored several of his colleagues when he called Harvey "a different pitcher" from last season. In three games, even without his sharpest command, Harvey has struck out 25 and walked six in 22 innings.

Scouts rave about his improved command, especially with his breaking pitches, a clear step up from what he showed last season.

Tonight, beneath the bright lights he seems to crave, the Mets hope Harvey shows it.

Said Collins: "I know he'll be ready because he's facing one of the best teams in the game."