ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves
ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves effectively iced their 12-4 win before sunset.
Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA, and he is running out of time to improve. Due back from the disabled list as soon as April 27, Jason Vargas will claim someone's rotation spot when healthy.
Given Harvey's recent string of performances -- 10 extra-base hits in his last 16 innings, among other indignities -- it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Mets to justify keeping him in his current role. All but acknowledging that much late Thursday, manager Mickey Callaway declined to commit to another start for Harvey. That did not sit well with the one-time ace, who bristled at the notion that he could be headed to the bullpen or the Minors.
"I'm a starting pitcher," Harvey said. "I've always been a starting pitcher. I think I showed that in the fifth, sixth inning, I can get people out."
Harvey indeed demonstrated marked improvement in the middle innings Thursday, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. But as pitching coach Dave Eiland noted, "The game starts in the first inning, not the fourth. ... You've got to be ready from the first pitch."
Instead, the Braves greeted Harvey with a flourish of hits: Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies led off the bottom of the first with singles, Freddie Freeman lifted a sacrifice fly and Kurt Suzuki bashed a two-run homer. Harvey allowed three more in the third inning on a Nick Markakis RBI single and a Preston Tucker two-run double. Although he recovered to finish strong, Harvey was, by that point, well on his way to his second consecutive loss.
"I think there's a lot still to prove," Harvey said. "But I believe that I took a step in the right direction, and I'm ready to get out of the hole and show what I can do."
New York's only offense against Matt Wisler, whom the Braves recalled from the Minors earlier in the day, came in the form of a Todd Frazier homer to lead off the fifth. Adrian Gonzalez also homered for the Mets, who rallied late, but not before Jerry Blevins and Gerson Bautista served up four runs of insurance to Tucker and the Braves in the seventh.
None of the late offense made much impact on a game that left the Mets mostly just concerned about what to do with Harvey. With Vargas set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment this weekend, only one more rotation turn stands between him and a return. And with a team off-day Monday, the Mets have the ability to skip Harvey's next start if they desire. The team could also temporarily shift to a six-man rotation, but Callaway has expressed more of an inclination to move someone to the bullpen, or even Triple-A.
When asked if he would accept a Minor League assignment, Harvey, whose five-plus years of big league service time give him the right to refuse one, replied: "I can't answer that question right now."
It is a conversation the Mets may force him to have in the coming days.
"We're going to make decisions that we feel are going to help this team win baseball games," Eiland said. "Period."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Frazier, at least, continued to be a bright spot for a Mets team that has dropped three of four. His fifth-inning homer left his bat at 109.3 mph, giving him at least one hit in eight of his last nine games. Frazier has reached base multiple times in nine of his last 12.
HE SAID IT
"I know the results aren't there. I feel bad that I couldn't have figured that out earlier, and done better to keep the damage limited. But that was huge for me, those last three innings. I give Mickey a lot of credit for letting me go back out there. ... I've dug myself in a hole for the last four starts, and I really feel like the last three innings were a big step out of that hole." -- Harvey
The Mets will look to build some momentum Friday behind Noah Syndergaard, who has been effective but inefficient in four starts this season. The Mets' Opening Day starter has 33 strikeouts and five walks in 21 1/3 innings, but has yet to throw a pitch in the seventh inning of any game. He'll oppose left-hander Sean Newcomb in a 7:35 p.m. ET game at SunTrust Park.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.