Batman begins: Harvey dominates in debut
Righty throws five scoreless innings of one-hit ball vs. Phillies
NEW YORK -- There is no telling if this is sustainable, or if it will pass the test of a six-month season. Certainly, Matt Harvey won't always be as effective as he was Tuesday, shutting out the Phillies over five innings of a 2-0 Mets victory at Citi Field. Like everyone else in baseball, he'll endure his struggles.
But for a pitcher so troubled over the past two seasons, the effect of having a game like that on his ledger is undeniable.
"He's got that look in his eye back," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "He was dominant."
With so many wondering if he might ever be an effective pitcher in the big leagues again, Harvey silenced a wave of would-be critics at Citi Field, allowing just one hit and a walk in five innings. He wasn't unhittable; Harvey maxed out at 93 mph with his fastball, catching plenty of plate with several mistake pitches. But he was effective. Harvey generated eight swings and misses on his fastball, according to Statcast™ data, three more than he had in any start last season.
"Obviously, going five innings and not giving up a ton of runs is definitely a plus," said Harvey, who struck out five and threw 86 pitches. "It's something I haven't usually been used to here."
By now, the tale of Harvey's decline is well-known. The National League's All-Star Game starter in 2013 and a short-list candidate for the title of best pitcher on earth, Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery later that season. He returned in 2015 to significant fanfare and much success, before faltering in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5.
He hasn't been the same since. Numbness in Harvey's fingers led to a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome in 2016, and eventually surgery was needed to correct that issue. The following summer, Harvey struggled mightily, ultimately missing two and a half months due to shoulder weakness. Returning in September, he went 1-4 with an 11.28 ERA in six outings down the stretch.
Some wondered if Harvey was permanently broken. The Mets briefly entertained the thought of trading him for cents on the dollar. But new manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland intervened, seeing potential.
Tuesday, Callaway and Eiland caught a whiff of the vindication that's possible. More than once, the manager has referenced Harvey's past superhero persona, saying the Mets do not need him to be the Dark Knight.
They simply need him to be what he was against the Phillies.
"I think anybody needs a good outing in their first one," Callaway said. "That was big. That was really good to see."
Specifically, d'Arnaud lauded Harvey's ability to change batters' eye levels, pitching up and down in the zone all evening. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler mentioned Harvey's ability to throw strikes early in counts, though Harvey also fell behind at times and left balls over the plate. The sense inside Philadelphia's clubhouse was that Harvey was hittable.
In that context, Harvey's next handful of starts will be telling. It's worth noting he began last year 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in his first four starts, before going 3-7 with an 8.15 ERA the rest of the way. The season is long. A six-month schedule is demanding for anyone, let alone a pitcher who has long struggled with health and confidence.
But Harvey's journey was never going to begin without a first step.
"I think it's just knowing that I'm healthy, and that I can go out there and I'm not in pain," Harvey said. "There's no issues. I think just going out there and battling … I was able to do that today."