CHICAGO — There was no talk of baby steps, no empty cliches, no squinting to detect the faintest hint of progress. From embattled Mets righthander Matt Harvey, there was only uncharacteristic candor and raw anger.
“There’s nothing else to say about today’s outing,” Harvey said after the Mets’ 17-5 thrashing Wednesday night against the Cubs. “It was terrible. I have to be better and that’s about it.”
With that, Harvey veered from what seemed to be an unofficial policy of denial. He did not bother sugarcoating his third start since coming off the disabled list, a thankless slog in which was charged with five runs on seven hits in 3 1⁄3 innings. He walked four and struck out just two, while watching his ERA rise to 6.14.
By the time he dissected his start, it had been hours since manager Terry Collins pulled him from the game. Harvey then took extra time before speaking to reporters. The cooling-off period did little to take the edge off his own scaching self-evaluation.
“It’s kind of hard to take any positives out of the last two years for me,” Harvey said, before cutting off a few questions. “It’s extremely frustrating. It’s hard going out there and not doing what I can to help this team win. All in all, it’s just extremely frustrating.”
Buried within a parade of baserunners was the fact that Harvey’s fastball regularly touched 95 mph, up a tick from his previous outings. He fired heaters in on the hands and successfully aimed back foot sliders to dangerous hitters, tactics he’ll need to re-master if he’s every to recapture even a semblance of the form that once made him elite.
Collins has preached the importance of looking at the “big picture,” especially in light of Harvey’s physical struggles. After Tommy John surgery in 2013, Harvey underwent another surgery last season to address thoracic outlet syndrome.
His a power pitcher learning to cope without power. But Harvey brushed off any suggestion of patience.
“There’s a lot of work going in that’s not paying off and it’s become very frustrating for me,” he said.
The outing also as a reminder progress often isn’t linear. His Sept. 2 return from a stint DL with a stress injury to his shoulder was a seven-run debacle against the Astros, after which he spoke in positive tones and insisted he’d need only a few starts to get back on track. Harvey followed that false start with a respectable outing against the Reds in which he surrendered two runs in five innings.
But Wednesday night, Harvey allowed 11 of the 20 batters he faced to reach base. By the end of his evening, he appeared fatigued, pulled in the fourth after issuing a four-pitch walk to Kris Bryant that loaded the bases.
“I’m not talking about two starts ago,” Harvey said, when asked about his prediction of a quick turnaround. “This is now, this is how I feel now, and it was a frustrating game.”
After 86 pitches, Harvey had hit a wall. Then, he watched reliever Hansel Robles make a mess of the inning, giving the Cubs a 5-2 lead on a bases loaded walk to Anthony Rizzo and a two-run single against Willson Contreras. Harvey had left three runners on base. All of them would score.
For all of Harvey’s flaws, the Mets don’t believe they have enough pitching depth to part with the righthander. Instead, the organization is prepared to hope that Harvey’s progress is spurred by the added incentive of a walk year ahead of free agency following the 2018 season.
When asked if there was any chance that Harvey could be non-tendered this winter, a team official answered simply, “no way.”
Harvey could have as many as three starts before season’s end, a last chance to make something out of a lost season. The goal is clear. Said Harvey: “I have to be better.”