Matt Harvey has polished a successful comeback season ahead of his greatest competitive challenge
Things haven’t been easy off the field for Matt Harvey in 2015, especially lately as he’s had to deal with constant talk and scrutiny about an innings limit controversy which has surrounded both he and his agent along with the team.
But on the field, Harvey has made pitching look pretty easy in his first full year back from Tommy John Surgery, when so many others over the course of history spent more time struggling than succeeding.
And on Saturday, on a day when he became very far from the story, Harvey ended his 2015 regular season as brilliantly as he started it with six innings, 11 strikeouts and only an unearned run to his ledger.
“There’s a lot of ups and downs,” he explained after Saturday night’s loss to the Nationals. “Overall, where we are now is definitely a positive.
“I think for me at the beginning, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Harvey continued. “I started off really hot, and I hit a down point throughout the year, which I kind of expected going into the season.”
Strong is probably an understatement. He delivered their first National League Eastern Division championship last weekend with 6 2/3 solid innings and his 12th and final win of the year.
And on Saturday, he was about as sharp as he’s been all year long, specifically with both the electricity and location of his fastball, which had that trademarked life he’s become known for in the early part of his career.
But because of what happened on the other side of the field with Max Scherzer’s gem of a no-hitter against the Mets, Harvey has now failed to win 19 career starts in which he has allowed one or no runs, the most such starts for a pitcher in his first 65 career games in the last century.
But Harvey himself certainly has nothing to hang his head over. In his last three starts, Harvey has a 1.02 ERA, allowing just two earned runs on 14 hits with a walk and 24 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.
“Finishing strong and being where I’m at right now and going to the playoffs, I couldn’t be happier with the season,” he said.
He found his rhythm again. Presumably that’s because he’s been pitching with regularity without being skipped in his last three starts. That’s not to say he has pitched poorly with extended rest, but despite the innings debate which took place in early September, Harvey himself has been very clear how important it is for him to pitch as frequently as possible for him to be in a groove.
“As I’ve said before … he wants to pitch,” manager Terry Collins said on Saturday. “To walk in there a couple of weeks ago and just say, ‘Listen, I need to start pitching like I’m supposed to, to get ready for the playoffs,’ because you’re bucking the system a little bit, you knew he had to do it for his own good, for our good.
“I thought he threw the ball very well tonight,” the manager explained. “He wanted to go 100 pitches. We said 90 was enough. But I thought he threw the ball very well.”
He’s throwing hard and with electricity. His power slider is vibrant and dominant. And he’s working his change-up more consistently in his repertoire as well.
Just as everyone has come to expect from the Dark Knight.
And he polished off a very successful comeback season in 2015 with his outing on Saturday, despite suffering the loss. He potentially exceeded expectations from a performance perspective with a 12-7 record and a 2.71 ERA in 29 starts and 189 2/3 innings.
The 29 starts and 189 2/3 innings are all within the ballpark the Mets expected him to be in at the conclusion of the 2015 regular season.
Imagine what he could do with no limitations and no innings controversies. He’s done it before in 2013. And it looks like he could do it again in 2016.
Now the test he’s been waiting and hoping for is about to begin. He seems slated to start game three of the Division Series a week from Monday at Citi Field against the Dodgers.
Hopefully he has more than that one start ahead of him this month.
He was bound and determined to get the Mets to this point, although he is far from the only horse to get the Mets to the finish line with a National League Eastern Division championship.
But he is certainly a lead horse, and a horse the Mets will be riding and counting on starting next week.