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Top prospect Harvey to pitch opener for Bisons Second-year pro grabs Mets attention

Every start Matt Harvey makes for the Buffalo Bisons this season will resonate all the way to Citi Field in Queens. So there's no better way for a mega prospect to stage a Triple-A debut than as the Opening Day starter.

That's the position Harvey will be in Thursday night when he takes the mound in Pawtucket as the Bisons open their 2012 season in their first game under new manager Wally Backman.

"It's a huge honor," Harvey, 23, said Tuesday before the team held its first workout in Coca-Cola Field. "I wasn't sure going into spring training exactly where I was going to start [whether it was Buffalo or Double-A Binghamton]. Wally told me the whole time I had a good chance of going with him. As soon as they told me, I was extremely honored and happy. I'm just glad to get the season started."

The 6-foot-4 right-hander has all the prospect labels and was the New York Mets' No. 1 draft pick in 2010 out of the University of North Carolina. Last season, his first as a pro, Harvey combined to go 13-5 with a 3.32 earned-run average in 26 starts between Single-A St. Lucie (Fla.) and Binghamton.

Harvey led all Mets minor leaguers with 13 wins and 156 strikeouts (in just 135 innings), was a Florida State League All-Star and even earned the save in the All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Harvey and fellow Triple-A rookie Jeurys Familia will combine as a formidable 1-2 pair at the top of the Buffalo rotation.

Harvey has an excellent curveball and has worked hard to add a two-seam fastball to his repertoire so he can keep more of his pitches down in the strike zone. He's not always overpowering, but has a fastball consistently in the 92-93 mph range that will push 95.

"I really like the way Harvey threw the ball this spring," Backman said. "He really worked hard in the winter, worked hard on his two-seamer."

Harvey worked out during the offseason with Mets catcher Mike Nickeas at Georgia Tech, Nickeas' alma mater. They had bullpen sessions but then threw simulated innings -- with Nickeas calling out names of big-league hitters.

"He'd say, 'All right, this guy's hitting. He's a lefty. He doesn't like the ball here,' " Harvey said. "We started working on that a lot more and once I got to spring training it was a lot easier as soon as I started to face hitters because I felt like I had already thrown some innings.

"It was good, something new for me he kind of brought in. I liked throwing simulated innings at the end of my bullpens. He was throwing in hitters and it was definitely a big help."

"Everyone knows he's got good stuff, that's plain to see," Nickeas told the New York Times during spring training. "I was more impressed with his personality and maturity."

Harvey pitched back-to-back two-inning outings for the Mets in spring training without giving up a run, then gave up five runs in one inning March 25 against the Nationals.

"I just have to stay with my approach, doing what I can do and not trying to do more," Harvey said. "Every time I take the ball, I'm going to have the same approach whoever it is I face. Do my best to not get out of that. Especially here being in Triple-A, a level higher."

Backman said the Washington start was a major learning experience.

"You learn from your mistakes and I talked to Matt right after that," Backman said. "It was a humbling experience. He threw the ball very well all of spring training up to that point, even on the big-league side.

"You learn from different things and it was a good learning process that you have to pitch down in the strike zone. He's the real deal. He's going to be somebody special at some point."

The Bisons will bus to Rhode Island this morning and play two games against the PawSox. They then play four in Rochester before opening the home schedule April 11 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com