Harvey's struggles continue vs. Nationals

May 25th, 2016

WASHINGTON -- The ingredients for Matt Harvey's renaissance were all in place early Tuesday evening, and for a fleeting few moments, Harvey's nightmare narrative seemed ready to dissolve. Amidst a gorgeous night at Nationals Park, the setting sun casting pink hues off the scaffolded Capitol dome, Harvey was not quite Harvey. But he was better -- much better, well on his way.

Then the Nationals began cracking through the aesthetics, cutting to the core of Harvey's issues throughout this bitter start to his season. His fastball velocity, consistently 95-96 mph early in the game, dipped ever so slightly. The Nationals' contact rate soared upward. And the same Washington team that nearly knocked Harvey out of the rotation last week roughed him up for five more runs in a 7-4 defeat of the Mets.

As a result, Harvey's time in the rotation may have reached a hiatus. Manager Terry Collins said after the loss that he, general manager Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen will meet Wednesday to determine whether Harvey will make his next start -- now tentatively scheduled for a Memorial Day matinee against the White Sox.

"We've got to think what's not just best for Matt, but what's best for us moving forward at the moment," Collins said. "There's a lot of things to consider. We're not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We're going to sleep on it, and talk about it tomorrow."

When Mets decision-makers do, they will surely look at one trend in particular that has become alarming. The first time opposing batters see Harvey in a game, they are batting .241 with a .292 on-base percentage and a .373 slugging mark. The second time they face him, those numbers rise to .301/.326/.518. By their third looks at Harvey, opponents' success rates skyrocket to .509/.563/.764, tearing down anything he might have accomplished in the early innings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon initially cut Harvey with back-to-back homers in the fourth inning Tuesday, giving the Nationals their first lead. Though Harvey escaped that inning, his former teammate Daniel Murphy took a sledgehammer to any remaining good vibes with a two-run homer in the fifth. Harvey skulked off the mound and into the dugout, bolting Nationals Park immediately after the game without speaking to the media.

"He's frustrated," catcher Kevin Plawecki said. "Anybody would be. He's a competitor and obviously wants to do well, and hasn't really gone through a tough stretch like this before."

Harvey entered this season with a 2.53 ERA in 65 career starts, starting the All-Star Game in 2013 before undergoing Tommy John surgery later that summer. His return from the operation last year was a smash hit, until Harvey allowed the game-tying run to score in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5.

Among the leading theories regarding Harvey's ensuing struggles -- now a 3-7 record and 6.08 ERA in 10 starts -- is that the 216 innings Harvey threw last year -- the most ever by a Tommy John patient in his first season back -- have driven him to fatigue. Harvey has also spoken often about mechanical issues. His manager believes at least part of the problem is mental.

Regardless of the reason, the Mets are now at a crossroads. Their next move will be to determine Harvey's future, drawing on the data of an increasingly mottled past.

"I'm really surprised," Collins said. "This guy's too good. He's just way too good to continue like this."