Posted on March 5, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Matt Harvey stepped on a big league mound for the first time in eight months Sunday, but it wasn’t quite the grand re-entrance to the New York Mets rotation he or the team may have been expecting. Despite striking out three, Harvey failed to complete the 2nd inning, allowing four runs on four hits over 1.2 innings, including a three-run home run off the bat of Cardinals rookie Jose Martinez. He lacked both the control and velocity we’ve seen from Harvey in the past, as his fastball topped out at 94 mph.
It was Harvey’s first start since last July when he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. In 2015, Harvey returned from Tommy John surgery in a big way, pitching at almost the same level he did prior to the surgery, ultimately helping the Mets win the National League pennant. However, there’s much less track record for pitchers returning from thoracic outlet syndrome, and based on his first start back, Harvey’s return from injury this time around may not be as effortless as it looked two years ago.
It’s important to note that Sunday’s start almost didn’t happen. After the start, it was reported that Harvey was complaining of a stiff neck. However, he insisted on making the start even as the Mets considered skipping his turn. Harvey wore a heating pad on his neck while on the mound to combat the stiff neck, although it’s unclear how much the neck hampered his performance.
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Despite the neck pain and the troubling stat line, Harvey said he was satisfied with his first outing of the spring and his first time on the mound since last summer.
“Obviously it’s been eight months since I played against another team. The biggest thing was going out there and trying, I guess get my mechanics back against another team,” Harvey said after Sunday’s start. “Today was kind of the first step getting my feet wet in game action and I felt it went pretty well.”
The lack of velocity on Harvey’s fastball may have been the biggest takeaway from his spring debut, especially on the heels of Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom making their spring debuts last week. Both pitchers lit up the radar gun as expected, including deGrom, who was making his first start since a relatively minor procedure on his elbow last fall.
When Harvey returned from Tommy John in 2015, he was hitting the upper 90s with his fastball, not living in the 92-93 mph range like he was on Sunday. Harvey says he feels physically capable of letting it go and showing that kind of velocity; however, he wants to ease into the season and ease into his starts.
“I think this year, I am taking things a little bit slower, realizing I want to get into the fifth or sixth inning before I really start ramping it up,” Harvey explains. “It’s still obviously the beginning of March, I realize there is time for the velo to pick up.”
Perhaps it’s a good thing for the Mets that Harvey wants to take things slow while coming back from a surgery that is rare for pitchers, at least compared to Tommy John. But it’s a little out of character for Harvey not to want to rise to the occasion, and his first start in eight months was certainly an event that was anticipated by many.
There’s obviously plenty of time for Harvey to bring himself along before the start of the season, as he said he will. However, his first start of the spring was not what many were expecting it to be. It will make his second start of spring all the more important, as Mets fans hope to be reassured by seeing the old Matt Harvey sooner rather than later.