PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Matt Harvey refuses to talk about what happened last season. Questions about his impending free agency are also off-limits. As Harvey sat in the First Data Field dugout for 15 minutes Thursday, conducting his first wide-ranging interview since September, he stuck to his agenda points
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Matt Harvey refuses to talk about what happened last season. Questions about his impending free agency are also off-limits. As Harvey sat in the First Data Field dugout for 15 minutes Thursday, conducting his first wide-ranging interview since September, he stuck to his agenda points of health and hope. Harvey laid out his goals in no uncertain terms.
"Going into this year, I strive to be better than I was before," he said. "And there's no reason why I can't. I'm still 28, 29 years old. There's a lot left in the tank."
Coming off a season in which he went 5-7 with a 6.70 ERA, including an 11.28 mark in six outings upon returning from shoulder weakness, Harvey has attracted the chorus of doubters who trail him around the Mets' Spring Training complex. Coming off a year in which the Mets suspended him three games for violating team attendance rules, he has earned the skepticism.
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Only by pitching well can Harvey erase it.
"It's very important for all of us for Matt to come back to where he was," teammate Noah Syndergaard said. "He's been through a whole lot. But we're pushing for him. We're rooting for him. We're all excited to have him back and healthy."
Health may be a relative term for Harvey, who has had twice as many surgeries as full, healthy seasons since his 2012 big league debut. In retrospect, Harvey says, he may have pushed himself too hard following thoracic outlet syndrome in '16, resulting in shoulder weakness last year. That issue subsequently led Harvey into bad habits with his leg mechanics, according to new pitching coach Dave Eiland, as he tried to compensate for a lack of strength.
Eiland believes Harvey is already on his way toward fixing that in his early spring throwing sessions, following a normal, injury-free offseason full of strength training exercises.
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"To get him back to the level of 2013, certainly that's our goal," Eiland said. "We'll see where it takes us. He's healthy. He's done his work this winter. He's in good shape physically and mentally. I have every reason in the world to be optimistic."
Added Callaway: "I am a firm believer that if we get our work in and we do it the right way, that everything else is going to follow -- the numbers, the awards. But there's no expectations on somebody's ERA or to go out there and throw this or do that and strike this many guys out. All I'm concerned about is the work. If they're putting their work in, then they're going to end up doing the best that they possibly can."
That wasn't the case last year for Harvey, who bemoaned that "the more work I was putting in, the worse I was getting" -- indeed, as Harvey stumbled through the worst September of his career, his ERA rose every time he took the mound. There is a chance that no matter how hard Harvey tries for a sweeter encore, he will not succeed.
Given that risk, and aware that Harvey is entering his last year of team control, the Mets briefly considered trading him this offseason. But Callaway and Eiland stepped in to vouch for a man they had never previously coached because, in the manager's words, it would have been "hard to find another guy with the upside this kid has."
It doesn't have to be "superhero upside," Callaway added. It doesn't have to be a return to 2013, when Harvey started the All-Star Game and finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. For a Mets rotation already featuring twin aces in Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, it just has to be good enough that a year from now, Harvey won't mind talking about it.
"He was labeled the Dark Knight," Callaway said. "He might never be the Dark Knight again. But the Mets don't need him to be that. His teammates in there don't need him to be the Dark Knight, and the guy he used to be. We need the best version of who Matt is today, and that version's going to be good enough."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.