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Mets decide to shift Harvey to bullpen

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ATLANTA -- The Mets allowed Matt Harvey to state his case, but in the end, there was no changing their minds. Nothing Harvey could say would sway the Mets from demoting him from the rotation to the bullpen, a move the team announced before Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Braves.

Mets officials colored it as a way for Harvey to work on his craft until they need him to start games again in the future. Just as Harvey could say nothing to influence the team, however, no words or platitudes could soothe his emotion.

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ATLANTA -- The Mets allowed Matt Harvey to state his case, but in the end, there was no changing their minds. Nothing Harvey could say would sway the Mets from demoting him from the rotation to the bullpen, a move the team announced before Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Braves.

Mets officials colored it as a way for Harvey to work on his craft until they need him to start games again in the future. Just as Harvey could say nothing to influence the team, however, no words or platitudes could soothe his emotion.

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"On a scale of 1 to 10, obviously I'm at a 10 with being pissed off," Harvey said, clarifying that he's angry both at the Mets and at himself. "My performance hasn't been there, and I just have to do whatever I have to do to get back in the starting rotation. Right now, that's go to the bullpen and work on some things, get things back to where I need to be."

Exclusively a starting pitcher throughout his professional career, Harvey's rotation status came into question when, after the right-hander allowed six runs in six innings on Thursday in Atlanta, Callaway declined to guarantee him another start. With Jason Vargas set to come off the disabled list next Saturday in San Diego, the Mets needed to shift someone out of the rotation. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, Callaway indicated, have both pitched well enough to stay.

Video: NYM@ATL: Mets TV booth on Harvey's move to bullpen

That left Harvey, whom the Mets could either demote to the bullpen or to the Minors -- the latter of which he could contractually refuse. Rather than broach that option, the Mets decided to move him to the bullpen, hoping he can grow from the experience.

"I want to make it clear: This is less about making Matt a reliever and more about getting him back to being a productive starter," assistant general manager John Ricco said. "Honestly, one of the reasons we brought in Mickey and [pitching coach] Dave Eiland were for their knowledge and expertise in this area. We have a lot of faith and confidence in what they're able to do."

The Mets' twin pitching gurus are no strangers to bullpen conversions; Callaway was involved in similar decisions with Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar in Cleveland, while Eiland's resume includes Danny Duffy and Wade Davis in Kansas City. All but Davis, who went on to become one of the Majors' best closers, returned to their respective rotations in short order.

Harvey will be available for the first time on Tuesday in St. Louis, and at least initially, the team will try to give him advance warning of his relief assignments. In the bullpen, the Mets hope, Harvey's history of control -- even with his struggles this year, he holds a 17-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- will help him succeed. They anticipate his average fastball and slider velocities will increase from what are currently career-low levels.

Tweet from @AnthonyDiComo: Matt Harvey's fastball and slider velocities are both down more than a full mph from last year. His fastball is also more than 4 mph slower than its 2013 peak. #Mets pic.twitter.com/cyQe8xI9yu

But multiple Mets officials painted Harvey's struggles -- he is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in four starts, and 5-9 with a 6.57 ERA since last season -- as more mental than physical. Harvey said on Friday that he is suffering no ill effects from his 2016 surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, nor from the resulting shoulder weakness that afflicted him last summer.

"We know he's healthy," Ricco said. "He's feeling good. Then you get to, is this a little bit of a mental thing, a confidence thing? One of the things we talk about is getting him into the 'pen, where he can have success in short spurts, get that confidence back and really let it go and get back to being a guy who can dominate the way he's shown in the past."

Added Harvey: "I know when things click that I can be one of the best in baseball, and that's as a starting pitcher. Obviously, I didn't show that. I have to do everything I can to get back to where I want to be and be as dominant as I have been."

When Callaway and Eiland informed Harvey of their decision, he argued that point, reiterating that something clicked for him in retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced on Thursday. The Mets don't doubt that. Nor are they concerned that their decision left him, in Callaway's words, "pissed off right now, and motivated to show everybody that he can be a starter."

"It's a big decision," Callaway said. "Matt Harvey has pitched in meaningful games for the Mets in his career, and he's done some special things. I knew it wasn't going to be the most comfortable conversation. It's a tough message, but it sounds like he's going to embrace it, and go out there and get the job done."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Matt Harvey