The policy on Matt Harvey’s arm was costly once again for the Mets
It had been 11 days since Matt Harvey’s last start, as the Mets made the difficult decision to skip his last scheduled start against the Rockies in Denver in an effort to rest their young but fatiguing prodigy.
So when Harvey took the mound on Friday night against the Red Sox, it was fairly predictable Harvey would struggle having to untangle some cob webs, both with his comfort and command on the mound.
He would be forced to do that against an offense on the rise, as the Red Sox were averaging 6.3 runs per game over their last 29 contests.
But it was no problem for the Mets ace.
Harvey indeed struggled with crispness and sharpness over the first two innings. He allowed an early walk to Pablo Sandoval with one out in the first inning, as his pitch count rose and he was throwing more balls than strikes. But his defense picked him up with a double play off the bat of David Ortiz in the first inning to help stave off an early Boston massacre.
“He was rusty. You could see that in the beginning,” manager Terry Collins said. “That’s why his pitch count got up to what it was.”
He then pitched a 1-2-3 second inning, but again Harvey was battling early command struggles.
But after that, Harvey found his second gear, and proceeded to mow down the Red Sox. He plugged in his patented upper-90s fastball and it was buzzing with electricity for the rest of the night, at one point topping out 99 mph. He also re-discovered his power slider and was throwing it so hard, it looked like a fastball until the very last second. He dropped in the occasional curveball – a pitch he refined during his recovery from Tommy John Surgery – and that really left the Boston hitters searching for answers at the plate.
The Red Sox and their powerful offense had no answer to Harvey after the second inning. He retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced, turning in six innings of two-hit ball with only that first inning walk against eight strikeouts to lower his ERA for the season to 2.48.
For such a fantastic performance, Harvey was deservingly in-line for his 12th win of the season. But it wasn’t unexpected that Collins removed Harvey after six innings, during which he needed 103 pitches thanks to his sluggish beginning.
“I wanted to stay out there, it was ultimately his call,” Harvey said about Collins’ decision to lift him. “Hopefully those innings saved can keep us playing into October.”
Unfortunately, the chance for a win disappeared quickly. Logan Verrett relieved Harvey in the seventh inning and coughed up a solo home run to Ortiz and a two-run home run to Jackie Bradley, Jr.
For Harvey, Friday night served as another start in which he pitched like Cy Young, but was victimized like Anthony Young. He has allowed one run or less in 31 of his first 60 big league starts, but has won just 14 of those 31 starts in his career.
“[Harvey] wanted to throw another inning. And I just said, ‘We can’t do it. That’s why we gave you the time off. We aren’t here to tax you. We’re here to make sure you can get through the month and play into the postseason,'” Collins explained. “He said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ That’s his mentality and I certainly understand it. We just couldn’t run him back out there.”
It’s definitely understandable why Collins removed Harvey. He was at 103 pitches after six innings, many of which were thrown under duress early in his outing. He’s less effective after 100 pitches, and no matter what he thinks, the team must continue to be as conservative as possible to ensure he doesn’t suffer the setbacks they fear he might if they take the leash off.
In addition, the club has a 6 1/2 game lead in the division, and it’s worth saving those bullets for a more meaningful game in the standings or a playoff game.
Having said all of that, the policy with Harvey (which is not set by Collins, by the way), skipping his last start, and removing him on Friday night still arguably cost the club a game. It certainly cost them a game in the standings, even if it ultimately becomes meaningless in the end. But it’s another example about how the rules and strategy behind Harvey impacted not only the outcome of a game, but also how the rest of the pitching staff is utilized to accommodate that policy.
Recall, Verrett was only used to throw six pitches in one inning against the Orioles last Wednesday, when he was clearly fit to at least begin the seventh inning. But because he was starting in place of Harvey on Sunday, he was lifted, Hansel Robles was inserted, and he allowed the game-tying home run to Adam Jones.
The policy around Harvey arguably accounts for the two most recent losses for the Mets.
“In postseason it’s a different story,” Collins said about lifting Harvey after six innings.
Hopefully that’s the case. For all of the babying surrounding Harvey and his arm, the leash has to be off come October.
Or else, they can expect more of the same, only the stakes will be higher.