PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — When a forecast for thunderstorms threatened Saturday afternoon’s Grapefruit League game in Viera against the Nationals, the Mets quickly shifted course with Matt Harvey.
They didn’t want to risk their Opening Day starter missing an appearance. So instead of making the trip, Harvey faced the Cardinals in a morning minor- league game here.
It turned out to be the right move. Well before rain washed out the Mets and Nationals, Harvey already was finished with his appearance, safe from the inconvenience of weather.
The final line: six runs (five earned) in 3 1⁄3 innings. He threw 71 pitches.
“I think the biggest thing was just getting our pitch count up,” said Harvey, who shrugged off the outing.
The defense didn’t help, misplaying a few routine balls into extra-base hits. Asked if he was concerned about the flurry of liners he gave up in the fourth, his final inning of work, Harvey barely mustered a shrug before saying “not at all.”
Indeed, for the Mets and Harvey, the results seemed inconsequential.
Before a contingent that included Sandy Alderson and J.P. Ricciardi, Harvey used the minor-league game as a laboratory.
It was clear early that he’d focus on his breaking pitches. He leaned heavily on his secondary offerings, throwing them much more often than he would during a regular-season game.
To begin at-bats and even when behind in the count, Harvey eschewed his fastball to work on throwing what pitching coach Dan Warthen called “something soft.”
“It’s the kind of stuff you’re going to have to do during the season,” Warthen said.
Harvey changed speeds and unleashed his slider, perhaps his most dangerous pitch and one that escaped him for most of last season. Only down the stretch in 2015 did his slider take on the same life as it did before Tommy John surgery.
“It feels great,” Harvey said. “It’s felt great all spring. The other thing was trying to get in a bunch of changeups today. Threw quite a bit of those.”
Indeed, Harvey’s sliders consistently were clocked in the high 80s, drawing a few looks of disbelief from the Cardinals minor-leaguers charting pitches from behind the backstop.
Harvey, 26, went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 2015 despite a slider that he didn’t trust until late in the year. Now, in his second year since surgery, he intends to have his full arsenal ready for the defending champion Royals on Opening Day.
“It’s different, completely different,” Warthen said of Harvey’s slider. “Last year, he wasn’t getting over the top of it. It was more of a flat cutter last year. It didn’t have the same kind of character. Right now, he’s got tilt on it. He’s got power.”
Warthen even noted the presence of a red dot on the baseball, an image created by the seams spinning on a well-thrown slider.
“So,” Warthen said, “it’s where it’s supposed to be.”
Tejada signs with Cards
Ruben Tejada has found a new home with the Cardinals, who needed a stopgap for injured shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
Four days after the Mets released him, Tejada signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, a source confirmed. He also received nearly $500,000 in termination pay from the Mets, bringing his earnings for the season to $2 million.
Tejada and the Mets had agreed to a $3-million deal during the offseason, though that salary was not guaranteed.