PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For three days following surgery to remove a rib from his torso, Matt Harvey could not feel his right hand. He thought about his future in baseball and the past he might be leaving behind, not so far removed from his perch as one of baseball's best pitchers.
"It was kind of an unknown feeling," Harvey said. "Throwing a baseball has always been easy for me. Last year, it just wasn't."
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Harvey spoke those words Monday from Mets camp, concerns about his health now mostly behind him. It has been seven months since Harvey's surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome, a disorder that caused numbness in his throwing arm as far back as last spring. Trying to pitch through it, Harvey recalls "getting beat up," going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts. Over one three-start stretch -- the worst of his life -- he allowed 19 runs and 27 hits in 13 1/3 innings.
"I tried as much as I could to battle through it," Harvey said. "Eventually, it just wasn't helping."
So Harvey underwent surgery, losing a rib to free up pinched nerves in his shoulder. Within days, he overcame the resulting nerve block in his hand, began physical therapy and descended upon a long winter. Unlike when he had Tommy John surgery in October 2013, Harvey did not speak to other pitchers about the challenges he faced. He simply ground through his workouts, spending significant time at agent Scott Boras' Newport Beach, Calif., facility. Harvey comforted himself playing catch with his father, Ed, his first coach.
Then he reported to Port St. Lucie, just one of several Mets starters recovering from major injury. Jacob deGrom underwent surgery late last September to remove a nerve in his throwing arm. Steven Matz had a bone spur removed from his elbow. Both of them also spoke Monday of their optimism, of their hope to -- finally -- make this much-hyped rotation whole again.
But Harvey is Harvey, a New York celebrity and socialite, a man captivated by big league life. Sitting out most of last season pained him. And it pained a Mets team relying on Harvey for something approaching his 2013 numbers: a 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 178 1/3 innings. An All-Star. A fireball.
"He was so good. He was so good," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "This guy, when he took the mound, you just knew you were going to win a game. Now, we just have to wait and see how he's going to feel."
Early signs are encouraging. Because Harvey underwent surgery so early last summer, he was able to embark on what he considered a "normal" offseason throwing program. Already this month in Port St. Lucie, Harvey has let throws zip, impressing those on staff.
"I saw the fire that I've seen in the past," Collins said. "He's bound and determined to make last year go away. Fast."
But only time will tell. Harvey knows that. The history of pitchers coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome is short and recent, with most patients -- Christopher Young and Josh Beckett, to name two prominent ones -- already in their mid-30s at the time of surgery. Harvey is still just 27, smack in the middle of a prime he's trying to recapture.
"I knew something wasn't right," Harvey said. "Throwing a baseball is one of the easiest things I do. And to go through a process like that of really not having an idea why it's so difficult to throw, it became pretty tough. Everybody wishes they could go back and change something. It was a tough process. I'm glad to be at Spring Training and healthy."