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Matt Harvey struggles again in middle innings

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey is

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey is seen in the dugout after he was taken out of the game during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves in an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Time to hang up the cape and cowl. Garage the Batmobile.

For now, the Dark Knight days are over for Matt Harvey. A better nickname, if we’re staying on comic-theme here, would be the Riddler.

Because what Harvey has done so far this season has been flat-out puzzling. A real head-scratcher. And that continued Tuesday night in the Mets’ 3-0 loss to the Braves at Citi Field, where Harvey again faded fast in the middle innings.

“At this point, there are a lot of questions,” Harvey said afterward, “and a lot of answers I’m looking for.”

A month in, Harvey hasn’t found any yet. And neither he nor his manager offered any explanations for another subpar start, this time against a weak Braves team Harvey should dominate. Terry Collins did raise the possibility Harvey could be struggling to regain arm strength after throwing 215 2/3 innings last season, but had no concrete proof that was the case.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Collins said. “If I did, we’d fix it.”

Collins said before the game Harvey was dealing with a vague illness, which would help explain a more ordinary fastball that rarely got past 93 mph. Harvey denied his health was an issue, but it’s always something with him. And if he truly was OK, it’s even more alarming that he couldn’t handle the Braves, who entered Tuesday with a .587 OPS, by far the worst in the majors.

He did for a little while, then followed his own troubling 2016 script. In the fifth, Harvey served up a line-drive homer to No. 9 hitter Mallex Smith that barely snaked inside the leftfield pole. The Braves scored twice more in the sixth on A.J. Pierzynski’s RBI double and a wild pitch. Before Tuesday’s start, opponents were hitting .409 off Harvey in the fifth inning and .588 in the sixth. Of the 18 earned runs he’s given up, 13 have scored in those two innings.

“We expect perfection, and you’re not going to get it,” Collins said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Bottom line: after six starts, Harvey is 2-4 with a 4.76 ERA. He’s allowed 42 hits in 34 innings, and his 6.61 K/9 rate is far below his 9.30 career mark. If the Mets’ rotation was “Survivor,” he’d be voted off by now. Bartolo Colon, who turns 43 this month, has a 2.56 ERA. Right now, Harvey is skating by on reputation. And with those numbers, if his name were Mike Pelfrey, the Mets would have to think hard about what to do when Zack Wheeler is ready in July.

We’ve been waiting for Harvey to return to his dominant self at some point, figuring it was just a matter of time. You know, once he was past the spring-training bladder infection, and any lingering effects from his scrambled schedule leading up to Opening Day.

Instead, it’s been one alibi after another. The hangover from pitching into November — capped by the infamous Game 5 start, of course — to the late March bladder issue to the sickness-related dehydration Harvey was battling in the 24 hours leading up to Tuesday’s start, according to Collins.

“That didn’t have anything to do with it,” Harvey said. “I feel fine.”

Frankly, Harvey didn’t look all at that energetic. But early on, he was able to touch 95 with his fastball, and this being the Braves, maybe his breaking pitches would be good enough to survive on a night he wasn’t feeling 100 percent. Atlanta came in with five home runs in 25 games and was batting .228. — only the Astros (.227) and Rays (.221) were worse.

But longtime Mets nemesis Freddie Freeman, a shadow of himself last weekend in Atlanta, crushed a pair of doubles off Harvey in his first two at-bats. In the second inning, Harvey stranded Braves at second and third by getting Smith on a bouncer back to the mound. But when Harvey faced the .218-hitting Smith again in the fifth, he left a 95-mph fastball up in the zone that Smith ripped off the leftfield’s back wall.

“I’m the one that’s most frustrated here,” Harvey said.

The Mets can’t be far behind.

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