Matt Harvey didn’t look good for the New York Mets last night, giving up four runs on eight hits, including a pair of home runs in five innings of work. This marks the third consecutive start that Harvey has gone only five innings for the Mets, but this is hardly a new trend. Dating back to last season, Harvey has gone five innings or fewer in each of his last 11 starts, which has tied a franchise record for the longest stretch of a starter failing to record an out in the sixth inning. The last time that Harvey lasted longer than five innings was May 28, 2017, when he tossed six innings of one run ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s safe to say that Harvey has been a disappointment so far after a strong spring training offered hope that he could be an effective big league pitcher again. Instead, Harvey has an ERA of 4.80 over 15 innings pitched, including eight runs allowed in his last two starts. Everyone has pointed to Harvey’s velocity decline as an issue, but he did hit 95 miles per hour in the first inning with his fastball before settling in at 93 for the rest of his start. That is plenty of velocity to work with in the major leagues if you can locate the fastball and mix in solid off speed offerings, which Harvey has, but the issue again appears to be confidence.
SNY’s Ron Darling noted during last night’s broadcast that Harvey isn’t doing a good job utilizing all of his pitches. Harvey barely used his curveball in his first three starts and hasn’t done a good job establishing his breaking pitches, allowing hitters to tee off on his fastball if he misses his spots. This is a point that the new coaching staff has hammered home with Harvey, but for some reason he still doesn’t trust his stuff enough to utilize it to get big league hitters out.
This is the same song and dance Harvey has dealt with since the start of 2016, when his fastball velocity began to decline and never recovered after Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. People were saying back then that Harvey needed to adjust to pitching without elite velocity, but we are nearly two full years past the surgery and the results haven’t changed. The lack of length is also a problem as it taxes the bullpen at least once a week. If Harvey’s results don’t improve, his rotation spot may well be in jeopardy.
This is because lefty Jason Vargas is on the comeback trail from the broken bone in his left hand. Vargas has been able to toss simulated games in order to stay stretched out, but the only hold up has been whether or not the Mets feel confident that he can catch the ball with the surgically repaired hand. The plan has been for Vargas to get a minor league rehab start before he rejoins the big league rotation, and that could happen as soon as next Sunday.
Zack Wheeler has taken Vargas’ spot and delivered a gem in his first start, allowing one run on two hits in seven innings of work against the Miami Marlins. The Mets are giving Wheeler another turn on Tuesday against the Washington Nationals, and if he can put up another good result it would be hard to justify removing him from the rotation. If the Mets stick with a meritocracy, which is how Mickey Callaway has shaped his roster so far, Vargas would take the rotation spot of either Harvey or Steven Matz. Matz has looked better after a rough first start to the season, but Harvey has trended in the wrong direction, looking worse in each successive start.
Harvey will have another chance to lock up a rotation spot on Thursday, when he pitches the opener of the Mets’ four game series in Atlanta. The Braves are playing well to start the season, but their lineup is filled with young players who Harvey should be able to handle. The weather will also be warmer, giving Harvey a better chance to get a feel of his off speed pitches. If Harvey delivers another stinker against Atlanta, he could end up being sent to Triple-A to resolve his issues when Vargas comes back.