It was dubbed “Harvey Day” on social media and used to be the big event at Citi Field. But every time Matt Harvey takes the mound for the Mets these days, there’s nothing but serious questions surfacing.
Is “The Dark Knight of Gotham” injured again? Did the Mets ruin him by using him in last year’s postseason and not shutting him down like the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg in 2012? Has he lost his mechanics and needs a refresher in (gasp) the minor leagues?
The search for answers continues. Let’s start with the numbers. In nine starts, the 27-year-old is 3-6 with an ugly 5.77 ERA. Even though he has 43 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 48 1/3 innings, Harvey is finding far too much of the plate. He’s given up 65 hits – and opponents are batting .325 against him.
Things completely blew up for Harvey when he gave up a career-high nine runs in a career-low 2 2/3 innings Thursday night and was booed off the mound during a 9-1 loss to the Nationals. Let’s remember there are a lot of red flags here for a pitcher who missed the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery.
Harvey became the first pitcher ever to follow that procedure by throwing more than 200 innings the next season, as he went 189 1/3 in the regular season last year and another 26 2/3 in the postseason. The total clocked in at 216, capped by the infamous ninth inning of Game Five of the World Series where he talked manager Terry Collins to letting him try to finish a shutout and promptly blew the lead in the eventual clinching game for the Kansas City Royals.
Harvey went 13-8, 2.71 in the regular season and opponents batted just .222, so the 2016 numbers are downright startling by comparison.
After Thursday’s game, the Mets said every option was on the table for Harvey. On Friday, Collins said Harvey was adamant he wants to keep pitching and will likely get another crack at the Nats on Tuesday in Washington.
“This kid went above and beyond last year,” Collins, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer, told the New York media. “And I’m not sure he’s recuperated from it. I’m going to stand by it. It’s not an excuse. We don’t make excuses here. I think it might be a reason. I think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse. That’s where I stand on it. I’ve told Matt I still trust him. I still believe in him.”
Said Harvey: “It’s my job to go out there and keep working and try to figure this thing out. That’s all I’m going to do is start over tomorrow and keep working hard and do everything I can to fix this.”
The Mets and Harvey insist he’s healthy, although there’s some chatter a urinary tract disorder in spring training might still be bothering him. It appears to some that Harvey is having a crisis of confidence. And after the surgery and then all the work last year, Harvey might just simply be enduring a dead arm period.
Harvey’s slider looks oddly flat and his fastball velocity is dipping. According to ESPN.com, the fastball averaged 94.9 mph during his May 8 start vs. San Diego but has slipped to an average of 92.7 and 93.4, respectively, in his last two starts. Major-league hitters tee off on stuff like that, especially when they sense a difference from what they’re accustomed to from a certain pitcher.
For the season, Harvey is at 94 mph – down from 96 last year. And that seems to be quite a line of demarcation. On his fastballs this season of greater than 94 mph, opponents are batting just .208 against Harvey. When his fastball is at 94 or below, the average is an astounding .435.
Harvey graduated to New York after a strong showing in 2012 for the Bisons that included a solid performance in the Triple-A All-Star Game at Coca-Cola Field. By 2013, he was a Sports Illustrated cover boy and posted a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts for the Mets in his first full season.
Harvey is just the biggest problem right now in the Mets’ vaunted rotation of young studs. Steven Matz missed a start with elbow discomfort and needed a cortisone shot before bouncing back to throw seven innings Friday against Milwaukee. Noah Syndergaard quietly had a precautionary MRI on his elbow earlier this month. Jacob DeGrom entered Saturday’s start against the Brewers with a 3.93 ERA in May after posting a 1.02 mark in April.
It sure seems like the Mets should be skipping some turns or perhaps even going to a six-man rotation for a couple of spins.
Collins has said Harvey’s between-starts work has been good and just needs to move it to the game mound, another indication the team believes Harvey isn’t pitching hurt. The manager told his pitcher to remember the way Citi Field fans were chanting his name during the World Series and to strive for a return to those moments. “It’ll happen again,” Collins said. “This summer, it will happen again. I told him that. What he heard last November, he will hear that again this summer. But you’ve got to get better to hear it.”
Fredi’s firing gets fouled up
Fredi Gonzalez’s merciful firing in Atlanta did not go as the Braves intended. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gonzalez got an email shortly after Monday’s loss in Pittsburgh notifying him of his commercial flight back to Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon.
The problem? The series ran through Thursday. Whoops.
Team President John Hart was flying to Pittsburgh in the morning to join General Manager John Coppolella and give Gonzalez the news in person after a 9-28 start that was the franchise’s worst since it was in Boston in 1911. But someone back in the home office missed the memo.
“I don’t think there’s a perfect time to do it,” said Gonzalez to the paper, declining to discuss the odd dismissal. “I think you do it when they feel like the time is right, so they did it…. I will tell you this, through all this stuff my team played hard. They had to answer questions that they shouldn’t have to answer about the manager, and per man they all handled it with class and they played their butts off.”
Gonzalez was replaced for the rest of the season by Triple-A Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker, who promptly watched his team fall behind, 7-0, in the first inning of his debut before eventually losing to the Pirates, 12-9.
With Snitker moving up to Atlanta, Gwinnett will be managed the rest of the year by 65-year-old former University at Buffalo shortstop Rick Albert. The West Seneca native and baseball lifer had been managing the Braves’ Class A team in the Gulf Coast League. He came through Buffalo as a coach with Richmond in 2003, and will be here leading the G-Braves July 21-24.
They Said It
• Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott in the Toronto Sun on the Blue Jays’ offense: “A key reason for the struggles could be that the meat and potatoes of the lineup – Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki – more resemble last week’s stale stew and watery zucchini.”
• Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner to New York reporters asking about his struggling team at Wednesday’s quarterly owners meetings in New York: “I think the coaches are doing a good job. These are professional athletes. They’re the best baseball players in the world. And sooner or later, it comes down to them on the inside, to push through whatever it is they’re going through, and to persevere.” The message seemed particularly directed at the likes of Mark Teixeira (.203) and Michael Pineda (1-5, 6.60).
• At the urging of major-league farm directors, the International League is cutting its 144-game schedule to 142 games next season and to 140 in 2018 and beyond. That means teams will lose one home date next year and two starting in 2018. And while that’s a loss of revenue, there are plenty of April dates throughout the league played in mostly empty ballparks. Players will also benefit from extra days of rest.
Now if we could only get teams to play more day games in the season’s opening few weeks. Sunshine and, say, 53 degrees is far better for players and fans alike than 42 degrees at night with a bitter wind.
• The reports that this will be the final year for the Batavia Muckdogs are sad but also inevitable. The Muckdogs have been operated by the Rochester Red Wings since 2008 and the Triple-A club has openly been waiting for a sale to cover its losses in Batavia in recent seasons.
The New York-Penn League has moved mostly to shiny new stadiums in places like State College, Pa., Aberdeen, Md., and Morgantown, W. Va., where the Rich Products-owned affiliate of the Pirates plays. Small community parks in places like Jamestown, Welland and Oneonta have long gone by the wayside, with Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium the last relic left. The current rumors are for the Muckdogs to head to Waldorf, Md., which is southeast of Washington, D.C., and become a Nationals affiliate.
• Former Bisons slugger Dan Johnson, best known for his ninth-inning pinch home run for Tampa Bay in the final game of 2011 that helped knock the Red Sox from the playoffs, is trying to resurrect his career as a knuckleball pitcher. He made his debut for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish last week and it was a struggle: Three runs on two hits over three innings – with five walks against two strikeouts. Johnson, 36, had 18 homers and 56 RBIs for the Herd in 2014.