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Mets' top pick Harvey brings his 'A' game

Matt Harvey speaks during a press conference. (August

Matt Harvey speaks during a press conference. (August 27, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Christopher Pasatieri

JUPITER, Fla. -- The distance from where Matt Harvey stood yesterday and the major leagues was a few hundred yards. Inside Roger Dean Stadium, a sellout crowd watched the Mets play the Cardinals, and the sound of the ballpark's PA system could be heard clearly among the fenced-in fields broiling in the afternoon sun.

During spring training, baseball at the Class A level is not exactly a spectator sport. But a pitcher like Harvey, the No. 7 pick overall in last year's draft, can draw a few interested onlookers, even from the other team. As Harvey warmed up Sunday, a bunch of Cardinals minor-leaguers headed over from the other fields and gathered behind the backstop.

They obviously had heard of Harvey. But among the questions the St. Louis players asked, this one stood out: "How hard does Harvey throw?"

In a few minutes, they had the answer. Once Harvey began rifling fastballs -- 94, 95, 94, 96 -- the players stopped talking. For the first two batters, a total of 11 pitches, Harvey fired nothing but heat, which prompted one Cardinal to say, "He only throws fastballs."

The words barely got out of the player's mouth before Harvey threw an 86-mph slider for strike one on the next batter, then another outside the zone. That at-bat ended with a called third strike -- 96 on the edge of the plate -- and the pitch had Harvey's gallery shaking their heads.

Harvey allowed only one hit, a single, in four scoreless innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

It was just the third start as a professional for Harvey, who turned 22 Sunday. At 6-4, 225 pounds, he has the build of a workhorse. And with the history of throwing 157 pitches once while at North Carolina, Harvey likes to pitch. "I feel great," he said. "I actually enjoy throwing every fifth day a lot better than once a week. I feel a lot more active and strong, and to be honest, as soon as we got on that five-day rotation, I felt a lot more comfortable. My arm felt a lot better."

He also is more relaxed now. After struggling through his first start for the Class A St. Lucie team with control problems and an uncharacteristic dip in velocity, he rebounded the next time out and had command of all three pitches: a 95-98 fastball, an 87-mph slider and a 78-mph looping curve.

After pitching three years for UNC, where he went 22-7 with a 3.73 ERA in 43 starts and 11 relief appearances, Harvey had to remind himself that pro ball would be no different. "It was my first outing in eight months against a different team, so I was a little amped up," he said of his rocky debut. "I kind of got out of my approach. After that, I just went back to pretty much what I have always done, and from here on out, that's what I'm going to do . . .

" . . . When I first did get here, it was on my mind -- where I was going to start, where I was going to be, how quick I'd move," Harvey said. "I kind of just put that behind me and blocked it out and realized that's not going to work. I can't make the decision, so the only thing I really can do is work hard and make sure I'm prepared for each start, and the rest will happen."

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