WASHINGTON — Since the Mets still are trying to come up with a concrete plan for how to fix Matt Harvey, maybe a good start Wednesday would have been to hand him a notebook and pen. That way, as Steven Matz took apart the Nationals with surgical precision, Harvey might learn something from his seat in the dugout.
At the moment, Matz is everything Harvey is not, a stunning turn of events from a year ago this month, when the former Ward-Melville star was trying to earn himself a promotion from Triple-A Las Vegas. After the Mets spent Wednesday morning attempting to untangle the latest Harvey fiasco, Matz climbed the mound at Nationals Park and made eight scoreless innings look almost effortless in the 2-0 victory.
“He’s got great confidence in the command of his stuff,” Collins said of Matz, who improved to 7-1 with a 2.36 ERA. “He’s not afraid of the challenge.”
That must have been a refreshing change for Collins, who had to be tired of coming up with the myriad excuses and alibis the Mets are floating for the ineffective Harvey. As soon as the bus rolled in Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., Collins summoned Harvey to his office and told him of the team’s intention to keep him in the rotation. The meeting lasted roughly 15 minutes. Approached later by reporters, Harvey again declined to comment, just as he had after Tuesday’s drubbing.
“I think at the end of the day, the theme is, how do we get him back to being the Matt Harvey we know that he can be?” assistant GM John Ricco said. “As Terry pointed out, we’re still committed. I think the best path is to have him continue to start games for us.”
Once considered the rotation’s alpha dog, its Dark Knight, Harvey has been pushed all the way to the rear, behind even Bartolo Colon, who tamed the Nats in Monday’s series opener. Remarkably, the Mets decided Wednesday to let Harvey stay on turn, despite an ERA that climbed to 6.08 the previous night. Their curious rationale for doing so had both Collins and Ricco leading us down a rabbit hole that posed more questions than answers.
When it comes to handling the pitching staff, we’re having a hard time lately following the Mets’ logic. Just last month, when Matz complained of minor forearm stiffness, the Mets immediately shut him down, skipping his next start and delaying a doctor’s visit until the team returned from the West Coast. They were in no rush to bring him back, figuring the more rest, the better, especially with his medical history.
Apparently, the move worked — along with a cortisone shot. As great as Matz was before then, he’s won the two starts since, allowing two earned runs over 15 innings with 15 strikeouts and one walk. Even with the forearm twinge, Matz maintains that his confidence was never an issue.
“It’s pretty high,” Matz said. “I just feel really comfortable on the mound.”
As for Harvey, he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, and yet the Mets insist on planting him there, over and over, expecting a better outcome when there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate reason to. If the issue is Harvey’s stamina and focus, as his middle-inning problems suggest, and the mechanical tinkering hasn’t improved the results, shouldn’t the next option be some kind of break to recharge, both physically and mentally?
It could be as short as an extra day of rest, or as long as a two-week DL stint. Nothing too drastic. Instead, we were surprised to hear Collins announce that Harvey would be handed the ball again Monday, on schedule, against the White Sox. Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA, allowing 27 hits in 13 1⁄3 innings.
“Right now, it’s in my best interests is to see if I can get Matt Harvey back,” Collins said. “I’m not giving up on him.”
On Wednesday, Matz reminded everyone just how far Harvey still has to go.