HOUSTON -- It has been two years since the Mets last saw vintage Matt Harvey -- a force capable of stinging the upper 90s with his fastball, supplementing it with a high-80s slider and packaging it all into one of baseball's best pitchers. As Harvey has struggled to recover from
HOUSTON -- It has been two years since the Mets last saw vintage Matt Harvey -- a force capable of stinging the upper 90s with his fastball, supplementing it with a high-80s slider and packaging it all into one of baseball's best pitchers. As Harvey has struggled to recover from multiple major surgeries, his velocity has flagged in kind. Reports from his recent Minor League rehab starts had him topping out around 93 mph.
None of that will matter, Harvey insisted this week, when he returns from the disabled list to start the first game of the Mets' doubleheader Saturday against the Astros. High-octane fastballs may have springboarded Harvey's career, but they're not what will keep him afloat as he looks to put his injury history behind him.
"Everybody's so worried about velocity," Harvey said. "If I can go out there and be healthy and get people out, that's the most important thing. I feel like I've been around long enough, and been injured long enough, to realize that velocity isn't everything."
Far more important than radar-gun readings, Harvey knows, are the muscle and ligament structures in his shoulder and elbow. Though Harvey thrived in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2015, he posted a 4.86 ERA the following season and learned in July '16 that he was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. Surgery to remove a rib alleviated Harvey's discomfort, but it did not restore his ace characteristics; in 13 starts this year, he posted a 5.25 ERA before landing on the DL with a stress injury to his right shoulder.
In those 13 outings, Harvey averaged 94 mph on his two- and four-seam fastballs, according to Statcast™ data -- 2.5 mph slower than his mark in 2015.
But if that's the sole reason for Harvey's downturn in performance, the Mets aren't convinced.
"We all know Matt Harvey. When he commands his pitches, it doesn't matter how hard he's throwing," manager Terry Collins said. "What made him exceptional was he could throw it at 96, 97. If he pitches at 93, 94, still that's very, very good. But is his slider back? Because that's been a big pitch for him. Does he have the arm speed on his changeup that he's going to need? All those things that indicate how a pitcher does, that's what we're going to try to see."
Collins won't be the only one watching closely when Harvey takes the mound in Houston. The team still maintains his contractual rights for one more season, and it will have a difficult time contending if Harvey does not log his share of innings. Beyond Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets feature mostly question marks in their 2018 rotation.
Harvey's bid to become an answer restarts Saturday in Houston, in the first of what should be five or six starts for him down the stretch.
"It's going to be really important that he's out there pitching, because I think the more he pitches, the better he's going to get," Collins said. "We've got the injuries behind us. Obviously the more he's out, the more he pitches, the more he gets back in the routine of things, we'll have a better idea of where he's at down the road."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.