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Rehabbing Matt Harvey doesn't want his star power to be a distraction

Matt Harvey tosses the ball for the first

Matt Harvey tosses the ball for the first time after undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training practice at Port St. Lucie, Fla. on Feb. 22, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Fans lined a chain-link fence here Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of the phenom. All he did was play catch. And if not for the fact that this was his first throwing session since elbow surgery, nothing about what he actually did would have seemed remarkable.

Yet Mets righthander Matt Harvey jogged off the field to applause.

"It was awesome," said Harvey, whose status presents a challenge for the Mets. "I know it was 20 throws at 60 feet, but everything felt absolutely amazing."

Never mind that the Mets have tried to shield his rehab from the spotlight, or that he's unlikely to pitch in a game this season, or that his return will not come for months, even if he were to defy the odds.

Just the sight of Harvey throwing a baseball sent a jolt of energy through what has otherwise been a quiet camp. And therein lies one of the many potential tension points between Harvey and the Mets, who want desperately to shift the focus away from the rehabbing ace.

"I threw 20 balls at 60 feet," Harvey said to a gaggle of reporters. "I don't want to have to do this every time I pick up a ball. I don't think that's fair to me, I don't think that's fair to the team. These guys are working hard. They're still trying to get 25 guys on the field. I'm not going to let this be a story about my rehab process. This is about them going forward, them moving."

Harvey mostly stuck to his talking points, which echoed thoughts shared by general manager Sandy Alderson this past week. Harvey toned down his desire to pitch before the end of the season and steered clear of setting potential return dates.

Later, Alderson hinted that the Mets would prefer to have Harvey rehab at the team's complex in Florida, even though the pitcher wants to stay in New York. Alderson said a decision likely won't come until the end of spring training.

Until then, the Mets will keep tabs on Harvey, whose natural instinct is to hit the target dates that he often sets. For instance, Harvey mentioned that he hoped to throw by Feb. 22, the four-month anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. He made the declaration long before he even had been cleared by a doctor.

Saturday was the four-month anniversary.

"Usually, when I aim toward a date, I strive for that pretty well," he said. "Fortunately enough, I was able to throw today."

Harvey found more targets to hit during catch. This time he zoned in on hitting the glove of bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello. Harvey said a voice in his head -- Jiminy Cricket, he joked later -- reminded him not to push too hard.

It's an idea that the Mets have tried to reinforce. But even as he tried to avoid setting a specific return date, Harvey revealed his tendency to exceed expectations.

"The last thing I want to do is put a date on August or September and have myself work too hard," said Harvey, even though an August return date would be pushing it even under the most optimistic scenario.

For now, Harvey must focus on closer goals. He will throw three times a week, and as he settles into his rehab, the Mets hope the spotlight dissipates. But even manager Terry Collins admitted that it will be tough not to keep close tabs on the rehabbing ace.

Said Collins: "I'm not going to BS anybody, it's hard . . . It's going to be tough for me not to watch."


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