ST. LOUIS — Matt Harvey began his new life as a Mets reliever Tuesday, and after a couple of apparent heart-to-hearts with manager Mickey Callaway seemed to be taking to the idea.
Still unhappy, sure, but willing to do what Callaway and the Mets’ other decision-makers want him to do.
Callaway decided to use Harvey on Tuesday night. He entered in the fifth in relief of Zack Wheeler, and with the score tied at 4, Harvey retired the first two batters before allowing a run on consecutive doubles by Dexter Fowler and Paul DeJong. Harvey struck out Kolten Wong to end the inning. He then pitched a scoreless sixth and got a no-decision when the Mets tied the score in the eighth. His numbers for the two innings: one run, two hits, a walk and two strikeouts.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations, just he and I about the whole thing,” Callaway said before the game. “And you know what? He’s taking it like a man. He wasn’t excited about it. He’s going to go out there and do the job.
“Nobody wants to come out of the starting rotation. It’s a tough message. It’s a tough thing to accept as a player. But he’s accepted it and he’s going to get the job done.”
One pitcher in the opposing dugout — or, um, opposing bullpen — this week can empathize with that sentiment.
Righthander Bud Norris, the Cardinals’ de facto closer in the season’s opening weeks, has endured that transition in recent years. A rotation mainstay for the Astros from 2009-13, Norris has bounced between the rotation and bullpen for six teams since 2015. He’s pitched almost strictly out of the bullpen since the end of 2016.
The key for Norris? You can’t harp on the negative.
“Once you don’t take it as a demotion, I think good things can come from it,” Norris said.
There are obvious differences between Harvey’s situation and Norris’ change. Most notably, the Mets have sold Harvey’s move to the bullpen as temporary, and Norris never reached the All-Star heights Harvey did as a starter.
But Norris knows Harvey’s plight, so perhaps there is something to be learned from Norris’ successful switch. He entered Tuesday with a 2.38 ERA, 1..147 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings for St. Louis this year, but initially hated the idea.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Norris said. “I wanted to be a starter as long as I could. I knew I could still succeed in that role if given the opportunity.”
Sound familiar? Harvey declared days before being sent to the bullpen: “I’m a starting pitcher. I’ve always been a starting pitcher.”
Starters feel strongly about being and remaining starters. It’s a significant piece of their identity, and as creatures of habit it can be difficult to abandon their routine.
“You know one way to pitch and the comfortability of being out there every five days and knowing what you can do as far as your program every day and taking care of your body and knowing that from a mental standpoint it’s like, ‘I have to lock in today. Today is my day to lock in,’” Norris said. “As a bullpen guy, you can affect the game a lot more on a daily basis and it’s a lot harder to learn when to lock in.”
Norris eventually figured that out — he starts to really focus around the fifth inning — and learned to be an effective reliever thanks in part to a mental adjustment that includes one of Callaway’s buzzwords: attack.
“It puts you in attack mode a lot faster,” Norris said. “As a starter, you’re trying to find corners, you’re trying to find spin on your breaking ball, on your changeup.
“As a bullpen guy, you better come in firing with what you have. You don’t have as much time to think about what it’s doing or how they’re taking swings. You just go with what you have and really commit to one pitch at a time. “
Norris, who like Callaway painted Harvey’s new role as an opportunity to prove people wrong, said the desire to be a starting pitcher never goes away.
But he’s comfortable with where he is now.
“I still know I can do it,” Norris said. “But I’ve embraced this a whole lot more. This is probably the best path for me to be the best version of myself.”
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