PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
The missing rib, removed from the upper right side of his chest, was easily forgotten about by Matt Harvey.
Not being able to feel his right hand, the one he uses to grip a baseball, well, that was alarming. As Harvey spoke Monday about the past seven months since the surgery to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome, the missing hand still haunted him. “That was a big scare for me when I was in the hospital,” he said.
For three days last July, as the nerve block administered for the operation lingered, Harvey waited for the sensation to return to his pitching hand. After everything he has been through, the 2013 Tommy John surgery followed by this, it’s understandable that he would be spooked. The lows were starting to outnumber the highs.
But Harvey, already on his third act at age 27, finally had the chance to exhale. “I slowly got it back,” he said. “And once I had full movement and started with the physical therapy, it was smooth sailing from there.”
Smooth is good. Smooth works. Harvey and the Mets could use a lot more smooth during the next six weeks and — dare we say it? — into the regular season.
Is that too much to ask? Because even in the best of times, everything between Harvey and the Mets has been the opposite of smooth.
The tug-of-war over innings limits, the World Series Game 5 melodrama, Harvey pitching like a shell of himself in 2016 before the TOS diagnosis. Along with Sandy Alderson and Scott Boras butting heads, it provided the soundtrack for a career suddenly going sideways.
What if everyone involved could just start on the same page this year and pursue the same goal: transforming him into a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher again?
Why the heck not? And judging by Monday’s meet-and-greet with the media, Harvey sounds game. There’s nothing like a glimpse of a player’s mortality to get him to rethink his business plan, and he now has stared into that abyss twice.
Deep down, we’re not convinced that Harvey is prepared to be just another member of the Mets’ rotation. That’s not how he’s wired. But he seems patient enough to regroup, with designs on reclaiming the No. 1 title he once held.
“I think the ace talk, I think that’s a long way away,” he said. “I think you guys can call it what you want to, but we’re all here to win as many games as we can. There’s so much talent from one to five no matter who we throw out there.”
But if Harvey somehow is able to find his form of 2013, when he started the All-Star Game at Citi Field and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, that’s a game-changer. That could get him back on the mound for another World Series.
Manager Terry Collins knows that’s still inside him. It’s just a matter of protecting it — and preserving it — moving forward.
“We just have to wait and see how he’s going to feel,” Collins said. “We aren’t sure how many guys have really bounced back from the injury he had to be what they were the year before. But I know one thing about Matt Harvey. If anybody can do that, Matt Harvey will be one of those guys that can regain the dominance that he once was.”
Collins said Harvey has been “humbled” by last year’s setback, and we got that sense listening to him. But it was a different experience watching him throw during his first bullpen session. This was not someone tentatively feeling his way back. He stood tall with the same confidence, fired his pitches with the same powerful intent. Whatever the surgery stripped from him, taking that rib as a toll, the rest of Harvey certainly appears intact.
“Throwing a baseball has always been easy for me, and last year it just wasn’t,” he said. “So I’m just glad to be healthy.”
With Harvey, easy would be a good place to start.