JUPITER, Fla. — Turns out Matt Harvey is mortal, after all.
Five days after electrifying a sold-out crowd at Port St. Lucie, Fla. with two perfect innings, Harvey fell back to earth with a 2 2/3-inning, two-run performance against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. It was Harvey’s second game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Oct. 2013.
The damage against Harvey could have been worse, considering the first four Marlins to face him in the second inning reached base, with Ichiro Suzuki’s single plating the first run and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walk loading the bases with no outs. But Harvey induced a double-play on a soft liner to third base, then struck out Reid Brignac to escape the jam.
An inning later, Giancarlo Stanton hit a one-hop double off the left-field wall, plating Christian Yelich. Harvey recovered to strike out Michael Morse. His day ended there, at 49 pitches. Once again touching the upper-90s with his fastball, Harvey topped out at 98 and sitting a few miles per hour slower than that.
He allowed a total of six hits in 2 2/3 innings, striking out two and walking one, while raising his Grapefruit League ERA to 3.86.
VIERA, Fla. — Take Matt Harvey, one of the most competitive pitchers in baseball, and place him in a game after 16 tiresome months of rehab. Throw a former Cy Young Award winner on the other side, then toss them both into the carnival like atmosphere of Port St. Lucie, Fla.’s Tradition Field. Home opener, mid-70s, packed house — that sort of thing.
Understand, then, that Harvey can say and do all the right things leading up to the Mets’ 1:10 p.m. ET Grapefruit League against the Tigers on Friday, his first game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Oct. 2013. He can swear a dozen times over that he’s “just looking at it as another day” and that he’s “getting ready for the season like anybody else.”
Manager Terry Collins still knows that once Harvey steps into uniform, stands on the mound and sees Tigers ace David Price on the other side, it will be impossible — even in a boring, old, counts-for-nothing spring game — to completely rein in Harvey.
“I just want him to understand this is part of the process of getting back,” Collins said. “You’re not going to do any more to make a huge impression on this club by trying to overthrow tomorrow. Just go out there, hit your spots, work on your stuff and let the two innings play out. But as we all know, we’re going to have to ratchet him down a little bit probably before he walks out on that mound.”
Said Harvey: “I don’t think my mentality’s going to change at all. It’s just my first outing in Spring Training, getting ready for what’s coming in the future. I’m not looking at it as a comeback or anything of that sort. It’s me preparing for a normal season.”
For Harvey, Friday’s Grapefruit League game will complete an 18-month process that began when he partially tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, cutting short what had been, up to that point, one of the finest seasons of any Mets pitcher in history. Following a two-month flirtation with rehab, Harvey decided in Oct. 2013 to undergo surgery, then spent most of the next year working his arm back into shape — sometimes in the privacy of the Mets’ Port St. Lucie training center, often within the media crush of New York City.
By Sept. 2014, Harvey had convinced the Mets that he was back to his old self. Still, the out-of-contention team held him back, knowing that an extra six months could mean the difference between long-term health and a future recurrence.
That decision makes Harvey’s matchup with Price his first game action since Aug. 24, 2013, also against the Tigers.
“Prior to the surgery, he had premier stuff,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “He looked like he was bound to be a superstar. Certainly for his sake and the game’s sake, I hope he bounces back and continues where he left off, because he was a very bright spot for Major League Baseball as a young player.”
Daniel Fields, one of the Tigers hitters making a two-plus-hour bus ride across Florida to face Harvey, noted that having Price on the other side only adds to the juice.
“Those are two of the best arms in the game right now,” said Fields, who will be in a lineup also set to include big leaguers Anthony Gose, Jose Iglesias, Rajai Davis and Nick Castellanos, but not star veterans Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes or Victor Martinez. “Whenever you get a matchup like that in Spring Training, that’s what you want to see. I’m excited for [Friday]. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
The Mets are, too. They just want Harvey to stick to his word and avoid overdoing it.
“Only Matt Harvey can speak for Matt Harvey,” Collins said. “For me, it’s a Spring Training game. I know that it’s a story because he’s Matt Harvey, but I don’t want to see anything more than I would see in a normal Spring Training game.”
Update, March 4, 9:03 a.m.:
PORT ST LUCIE, Fla. — A day after Mets veterans David Wright and Bobby Parnell chastised him for eating in the clubhouse during a game, rookie Noah Syndergaard apologized for actions that he called “straight-up ignorance on my part.”
“It was just really a mistake on my part,” Syndergaard said. “It was a learning experience for me. I should have been on the bench.”
During the middle innings of Tuesday’s intrasquad game at Tradition Field, Syndergaard, who was not scheduled to pitch, ducked into the clubhouse and sat down to eat. Wright was already out of the game and when the captain spotted Syndergaard, he scolded him for not being on the bench supporting his teammates. Parnell then walked over, grabbed Syndergaard’s lunch and threw it in the trash.
“I thought it was OK,” Syndergaard said. “I thought there would be a difference — it wasn’t me being in there with my feet up watching TV. I was just grabbing a quick bite to eat. I learned from that mistake, and next time it won’t happen again.”
In his second big league camp at age 22, Syndergaard spoke with Wright again early Wednesday morning to clear up any lingering ill will.
“He didn’t want me to think him and Bobby were picking on me,” Syndergaard said. “He just wanted to make it clear they care about me, they want me to be a part of the team, because they think I can contribute in the future.”
“You see something that can help a player out and you say it,” said Wright, the Mets’ captain for the past two seasons. “It’s the way that we get on each other that maybe some people don’t get or understand. But I’ve got three younger brothers. It’s the way that I’d get on them and that’s what it’s like in here. You have some older brothers and you have some younger brothers. If you see something that can ultimately help them, or help the team, you get on them a little bit. And we wouldn’t do it to somebody that we didn’t think could take it, or that we didn’t think was one of us. I like Noah. I’ve gotten to know Noah over the last couple of years. He’s one of us.”
It was a lesson, Wright said, that he would not hesitate to deliver again — though he apologized to Syndergaard for delivering this one in such a public setting.
“There was no chastising going on,” Wright said. “I was giving a guy a hard time. I do most things with a smile on my face, or I like to think I do. There was nothing malicious.”
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — This early in spring, live batting practice is an exercise inherently stacked against hitters. David Wright calls facing a game-ready pitcher “impossible” at a time when he and his peers are simply trying to rediscover their timing at the plate.
So it was entirely unsurprising to Wright when Matt Harvey unleashed a tumbling curveball Monday and the third baseman not only swung through it, but dropped his shoulder, put his head down and half-whiffed, half-walked out of the batter’s box.
Wright was not alone; for the first time this spring, hitters stepping into the cage regularly tried — largely unsuccessfully — to swing at pitches. Against Harvey, that resulted in several whiffs and a fair amount of weak contact. Harvey in particular focused on the curveball that was his primary out pitch in college, before giving way to the slider early in his professional career. Coming off surgery, Harvey said, the curveball came easier to him, so he began throwing it more. And pitching coach Dan Warthen only encouraged it, noting that the curve places far less torque on his elbow than the slider.
“I’m a big believer in curveballs,” manager Terry Collins said. “Sliders, obviously you can throw those a lot harder than you can a curveball. But the plane change on a curveball is a very, very good pitch. It takes less torque to throw a curveball. I always thought Matt had a very, very good one. I think it’s a good pitch for him. It’s a little something off his hard stuff that he can throw for strikes.”
“It’s a great combination to be able to throw a four-seam [fastball] up in the zone and come back with a curveball,” Warthen said. “The delivery, everything is repeating itself beautifully right now.”
Harvey, for his part, said he has no idea why the curveball came so naturally post-surgery, speculating that either his mechanics grew cleaner or “it just magically appeared.”
“I always threw sliders,” said Harvey, who threw approximately four of them for every three curves in 2013. “It’s nice having that develop.”
Still, though Harvey did his best to gauge the reactions of Wright, Curtis Granderson and others during Monday’s session, a far more significant test will come Friday at Tradition Field. There, Harvey will face the Tigers in his first live game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Oct. 2013.
On the mound for Detroit will be left-hander David Price, who recently joined a growing chorus texting Harvey to offer support. The two met with Harvey was a student at the University of North Carolina and Price was pitching in nearby Durham. They kept in touch over the years, leading Price to contact Harvey with words of encouragement — and perhaps a touch of trash talking.
At the time, it was a light moment between two of baseball’s stars. Friday, it will be Harvey’s job to brush aside Price and all other distractions, focusing instead on his continued development as March melts toward April.
“We still have a whole month to go,” Harvey said. “I don’t want to go out there and overwork or get too excited about one or two innings. I’ve been through Spring Training before. I realize there’s still a lot of work to be done and still a lot of steps that need to be taken in order to be game-ready.”
New Mets hitting coach Kevin Long spoke at length this morning, offering his take on several Mets hitters. Read the story on Mets.com, but also check out these bonus takes:
On Curtis Granderson: “When I’ve seen Curtis — and I’ve seen him at a very high level — he’s able to get on base. He’s able to drive the ball. And certainly the top of the order, those guys are going to get more at-bats throughout the year. Let’s say he hits sixth. He’d probably lose 70, 80 at-bats to the guy who hits leadoff. So do you want your best hitters and the guys who get on base the most? Certainly you do. There’s some other options, so that’s not etched in stone, but we’ll say how this plays out. Terry’s ultimately is going to have the final say-so on that. But Curtis has done it before. He’s capable of doing it. So we’ll just see how it plays out.
“Obviously we’ve worked on a few things, and we’re going back to the blueprint of when he was with the Yankees. There are a couple minor things that we’re working on. One is getting his hands into a consistent position, and just getting him to feel the consistency he had, the shortness to the ball, obviously the compact swing that he had, the explosiveness — it’s all in there. It’s just a matter of going back, kind of going through the video, getting together, trying some things in the cages and seeing if we can gain on it. And I think we have. I think he feels good about his work that he’s done in the offseason, and now coming into Spring Training — it’s not that we’re gaining momentum anymore, it’s more about staying where he’s at now.
On Juan Lagares: “Juan’s talented. I’ve noticed that and I’m excited about this player. He’s got a nice demeanor about him. He’s confident. Obviously he’s going to have to hone in on the strike zone and kind of take these chases and these swings out of the zone, and be able to lay off some pitches, and determine what’s a pitch that he can do damage to. And if he can’t, certainly laying off is going to do what? It’s going to increase his on-base percentage. I think with Juan, it’s more about, ‘Can we maximize his ability to get on base?’ So he’s got some work to do.
“There’s drills you can do. There’s a lot of vision stuff. And I’ll use Robinson Cano as an example because he’s the guy who sticks out, but we really paid attention to what he was swinging at, talking about his ‘A’ swing, talking about doing damage to the ball, talking to him about, ‘Today, you swung at seven pitches out of the zone. Let’s see if we can get that number down to four a day.’ And then all of the sudden, the four turns into two.’ Instead of trying to get there all at once, you gradually get there. So we’ll do strike zone stuff where we’ll say, ‘Okay, let’s just swing at pitches middle-away. Anything in, take it, instead of trying to cover the whole strike zone and expand it.’ You can do that early and you can do that in plus counts, and a lot of times that we’ll help as well.
“He’s got a good swing and he’s always had the ability to get hits. He finds a way. I think he hit .285, which the Major League average is .250, so he’s 35 points up there. What we’re looking at is, ‘What is his on-base?’ It’s probably .315, .320. If we can get that number up to .350, .360, you’ve gain on it quite a bit.”
On David Wright: “He’s a tough one for me to kind of give you an honest evaluation of. I wasn’t here. I didn’t live it. I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t know what kind of workload he was able to do or not able to do. So in David’s case, certainly I can tell you that if I’ve got a shoulder issue and I need to get extension, at some point it’s going to pinch. And it’s going to hurt. So if you saw him cutting off his swing and not getting through baseballs or not driving the ball, you can put two and two together and say they probably had something to do with it.”
On Travis d’Arnaud: “It’s funny because when I looked at Travis and I looked at him early on, it was almost like the competitiveness was out of him. The athlete, he was thinking too much. He wasn’t trusting his ability, and probably what had gotten him to the big leagues. Maybe he didn’t know if he could compete at this level. I think when he went back to Triple-A, he said, “You know what, I’m going to go back to the way I hit.’ And one of those things was getting on the plate. Getting on the plate certainly helped him a great deal. I could see his confidence level rise, I could see his swing start to come together, and really I’ve done very little with Travis — almost nothing, other than keep his confidence level up and his spirits up, and let him know that what you did last year when you came back was enough, and it was terrific.”
On Lucas Duda: “He’s well aware that he needs to work. And all lefty-on-lefty stuff is, or righty-on-righty stuff, it’s angles. So we’ll get different angles and we’ll get the ball coming from this angle a lot more than this angle. Obviously he’s had some success [against right-handed pitchers]. He’s had some success [against lefties] in the Minor Leagues. So it’s here. He can do it. When he’s able to swing, we’ll get back to doing some lefty-on-lefty stuff, and see if we can’t get him a little bit more consistent there. Obviously we’re talking about a 30-home run guy. There’s not many of those in the Major Leagues. So the more that we can get Lucas in the lineup, the better off we’ll be.
“Using the whole field certainly will get that average where it needs to be. But Lucas, if I’m not mistaken, I think he has power to all fields. Certainly we’ve seen more to the pull side, and most hitters are going to have more power to the pull side, but this something that Lucas has done in the past. He’s been able to drive the ball to all fields. So I’m sure some of our attention will go to that, and we’ll see if maybe we can get that average to elevate just a little bit.”
On Bartolo Colon: “Bartolo’s got some work to do [laughing]. He’s not too vested in putting that much time into getting his swing where it needs to be. He said he had two hits last year, and I said, ‘How about four hits this year?’ And he said, ‘How about three?’ That’s where we’re at with Bartolo.”
Date: Feb. 21
Days until Opening Day: 44
Temperature in Port St. Lucie, Fla.: 68 degrees
Temperature in Flushing, N.Y.: 28 degrees
Picture of the Day: Matt Harvey participates in pitchers’ fielding practice as Jacob deGrom and Josh Edgin look on.
Quote of the Day: “My life has changed a lot in a year.” –RHP Jacob deGrom, who went from Triple-A depth last spring to reigning National League Rookie of the Year.
Date: Feb. 20
Days until Opening Day: 45
Picture of the Day: Jon Niese throws a bullpen session as pitching coach Dan Warthen looks on.
Story of the Day: Alderson reprises lofty expectations for 2015 Mets
Quote of the Day: “If you don’t make the playoffs, you’re disappointed.” –General manager Sandy Alderson
Date: Feb. 19
Days until Opening Day: 46
Temperature in Port St. Lucie, Fla.: 55 degrees
Temperature in Flushing, N.Y.: 21 degrees
Picture of the Day: Mets president Saul Katz (center) and principal owner Fred Wilpon (right) chat with pitching coach Dan Warthen.
Story of the Day: Mets pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training
Quote of the Day: “I have not been near 92 yet. I’ll let you know how 92 goes.” –Left-handed pitcher Josh Edgin, when asked if he could challenge Pedro Feliciano’s club record 92 appearances in 2010.
Two days after reporting to Spring Training, Matt Harvey has posted a revealing essay on Derek Jeter’s “Players’ Tribunal” site. The essay details his 2013 offseason trip to Laos and subsequent rehab from Tommy John surgery.
Every morning for the first few weeks after surgery, all I could do were arm curls with five-pound weights. It was an eye-opening experience — realizing that one year you can pitch in an All-Star Game in front of your home crowd and then a few months later all you can do is curl five-pounders.
But being away was good for me. It gave me time to do some soul searching. Just like in New York, I walked around a lot to clear my head. Being alone in a country and not speaking the language turned out to be a good temporary escape. For the first time in a long time, I was in a place where nobody recognized me. In New York, occasionally people will say hello to me on the street. (Other times, even hometown fans have a hard time recognizing me, like I had fun showing in this video I did for Jimmy Fallon.) In Laos, I was invisible and that was fine. I remember talking to a street vendor and having a funny “conversation” — we had to use hand gestures — but when I asked to take a photo with her, she refused. To her, I was just an American weirdo with one arm in a sling and the other arm making crazy hand signals. I couldn’t blame her. We waved goodbye and I went on my way.
You can read Harvey’s entire entry here.
I stumbled across this site today and found it quite interesting: a cartographic look at how many miles teams travel in a season.
The Baseball Savant map piqued my interest due to the Mets’ sheer volume of travel last season, playing Interleague series in Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle, in addition to their usual trips out west to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. It turns out the Mets traveled 35,781 miles over the course of the summer, not including Spring Training hops to Las Vegas and Montreal.
What I found most interesting, however, was something I long suspected but had never seen in numbers: teams in the AL West are at a clear logistical disadvantage each year, traveling thousands of miles more than others just to play their divisional rivals. And teams in the Central fly less than anyone, with cross-country flights exceedingly rare.
That doesn’t mean you should feel bad even for the Mariners, who flew 51,540 miles last year and are due to lead the league again this summer. All teams travel on charters, meaning they breeze through airport security, the planes wait for them and they never have to make connections. But over a 162-game season, which wears players down enough as is, it’s worth noting how much those extra miles add up.
(The Mets, for what it’s worth, are scheduled to fly 30,289 miles this year, not including a spring jaunt to Texas. That’s 13th in the league.)