Mets pitcher reflects on surgery, how he responded when informed of UCL tear
NEW YORK -- When news broke Thursday night that that a young supremely talented right-handed pitcher who took the Big Apple and Major League Baseball by storm had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, Matt Harvey could sympathize.
Doctors diagnosed Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees' 25-year-old American League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award candidate, with the same injury that sidelined Harvey, the Mets' ace, less than a year ago. The plan for Tanaka is similar to the one initially prescribed to Harvey last August: rest and rehab for six weeks to hopefully avoid Tommy John surgery.
Harvey, of course, did not avoid surgery. He went under the knife in October and is missing the entire 2014 season as a result.
"It was something that I felt like I could work past and kind of battle through and figure out an alternative to obviously going down and having surgery," Harvey said Thursday night of the initial partial tear.
Every case is different, Harvey acknowledged, and whether Tanaka will face the same fate remains to be seen. A "partial tear" could have any number of variations.
But there is something to be learned from Harvey's scenario. Part of his initial resistance to surgery grew out of the lack of tangible symptoms -- Harvey didn't feel the pain associated with a UCL tear -- and he had a hard time believing that it actually happened to him.
"But the MRI wasn't lying," Harvey said. "It took me a while, but I figured after about a month or two that it was time to have things done."
For Harvey, the uncertainty that came along with the partial tear -- which could become a complete tear and guarantee surgery with any pitch -- became too much mentally to bear.
"After not throwing for a couple of days, everything felt fine. I didn't go out there and throw, but for me it was a mental thing," Harvey said. "It was something I kind of could feel would kind of linger in the back of my mind going forward. I didn't want that. I didn't want to wake up thinking, is today going to be the day?
"The surgery's gotten so good these days, and so many guys are having it and coming back so successful, that it obviously became more realistic to me that it was something I needed to get done."
According to Harvey, the decision needs ultimately to be Tanaka's.
"I would tell him to just go with what you feel. I didn't listen to anybody," Harvey said. "I went off of my personal feelings. It's your body that you want to throw with again obviously. If you want to go out and try not to have [surgery] and have your mind set to that and you're 100 percent committed to that, more power to you. If it's the other way around, go get it done.
"For me, it took a while."
At the time of his injury, Harvey owned a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings over parts of two Major League seasons. He had already earned nicknames like "Real Deal" and "the Dark Knight of Gotham," and when the Mets were ready to compete again, Harvey was going to be at the forefront. Surgery set that back by at least a year.
"You always think about in the future," Harvey said. "It was a tough decision to have to sit out an entire year that early. I think for me, I think for the organization as we're building, I think it seemed like a good time for things to get done and to put behind me and not have to worry about it anymore."
Tanaka has been similarly dominant in his young career stateside. As a rookie import from Japan, he has a 2.51 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while striking out more than a batter per inning. Harvey hates to see a pitcher like that -- or yet another pitcher like that, for that matter -- go down for an extended period of time.
"It's an unfortunate thing that you don't want to see, especially with how much success he's had in his first year," Harvey said. "It's Major League Baseball, it's what it's about. It's a sad thing. It's something as a competitive pitcher, you want those guys around. It's unfortunate that all these are happening. But if you look at the bright side, they're all kind of happening at the same time. Hopefully we'll all return at the same time."