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Ups and downs in Harvey's return to action

Right-hander, Collins not rushing to judgment after first spring start
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Matt Harvey first returned to a game following Tommy John surgery two years ago, climbing atop the same Spring Training mound he did on Sunday, the scene was one of pure electricity. Manager Terry Collins all but chastised Harvey afterward for throwing 99 mph in that game, pitching as if he had something to prove.

The scene for Harvey's return from thoracic outlet syndrome, and his resulting surgery to remove a rib, was infinitely more subdued. Harvey maxed out at 94 mph in the Mets' 14-11 loss on Sunday, throwing most of his fastballs a few ticks slower than that. He gave up four runs, three of them on a Jose Martinez homer in the second inning. Afterward, he spoke almost exclusively of his need for a more deliberate process in his return to health.

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Matt Harvey first returned to a game following Tommy John surgery two years ago, climbing atop the same Spring Training mound he did on Sunday, the scene was one of pure electricity. Manager Terry Collins all but chastised Harvey afterward for throwing 99 mph in that game, pitching as if he had something to prove.

The scene for Harvey's return from thoracic outlet syndrome, and his resulting surgery to remove a rib, was infinitely more subdued. Harvey maxed out at 94 mph in the Mets' 14-11 loss on Sunday, throwing most of his fastballs a few ticks slower than that. He gave up four runs, three of them on a Jose Martinez homer in the second inning. Afterward, he spoke almost exclusively of his need for a more deliberate process in his return to health.

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"Coming back from Tommy John was a little different story," Harvey said. "I was pumped up for that one. The biggest thing for me is just going out there more and more and getting used to facing other teams. The velo will come."

Video: STL@NYM: Harvey on his outing, working on mechanics

The Mets won't worry yet because they don't have to, and because Harvey did show encouraging signs throughout his two innings against the Cardinals. His slider and changeup were both sharp enough to use as strikeout pitches. His four-seam fastball featured horizontal movement, according to catcher Rene Rivera, if not its usual velocity. And more than anything, Harvey came out of the start healthy.

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As recently as Sunday morning, the Mets considered scratching Harvey due to a stiff neck. But Harvey convinced Collins to let him pitch, strapping a heating pad on the side of his neck to combat his symptoms.

"So we'll cut him a little slack," Collins said.

For now, at least, the Mets have slack to spare. Harvey should start five more times this spring, giving him plenty of time to discover his old form -- including his old velocity -- prior to the regular season. That's five more opportunities to round into shape, five more chances to show he's back to normal.

Video: STL@NYM: Rivera on catching Harvey in first outing

The only question is what normal means for Harvey at age 27, now a veteran of two major operations in three years. Expecting a return to Harvey's 2013 form, which included a 2.27 ERA and an All-Star Game appearance, seems ambitious. But Harvey was still plenty good in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, going 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA that year. It was not until early last summer that he experienced his first real bout of trouble, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA -- pitching all the while, the Mets learned later, with numbness in his fingers.

Throughout Spring Training, the Mets and Harvey have both said the goal is health, not performance. So Sunday was, if nothing else, a step firmly in that direction.

"We've got a long way [to go]," Collins said. "As long as he felt good about it, as long as he didn't have any discomfort, I think we're OK. I think we're on the right track."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets, Matt Harvey