NEW YORK — If anyone needed a reminder of how far Matt Harvey had sunk, it came Monday, after what was easily his best outing of the season.
Harvey was outstanding in the New York Mets ‘ 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, allowing just two hits in seven scoreless innings while hitting 98 mph on the radar gun for the first time in 2016. But rather than confidently declare that Harvey has solved the problems that plagued him through his first 10 starts, both the one-time ace and Mets manager Terry Collins cautiously described it as just a “first step” back.
“This isn’t going to really mean anything unless I continue it,” Harvey said after winning for the first time since May 8 and lowering his ERA from 6.08 to 5.37.
Harvey even admitted to having negative thoughts after he allowed the first two White Sox batters to reach base in the seventh inning. He walked Adam Eaton and allowed a ground ball single to Jose Abreu, but after Melky Cabrera sacrificed the runners to second and third, Harvey got Todd Frazier on a popup and J.B. Shuck on a groundout.
He walked off the mound to a standing ovation with the Citi Field fans chanting his name, a stark contrast from the boos he heard from the same fans after allowing a career-worst nine runs to the Washington Nationals just 11 days before.
Collins said he considered pulling Harvey after six innings in which he had faced the minimum 18 batters, in hopes that it would lift the pitcher’s confidence to have a good outing. Instead, Collins allowed Harvey to pitch the seventh, feeling that pushing it an extra inning might help him even more.
The decision worked out well, with Harvey proving to himself that he could get out of a jam and that he could be effective facing hitters for the third time in the same game. Before Monday, opponents were hitting .509 against Harvey the third time through the order, and .364 at any point in the game with runners on base.
Harvey and the Mets have concentrated quite a bit on his mechanics, and he said Monday that he made adjustments that allowed him to stay over the pitching rubber longer and establish a consistent arm slot. But Harvey also admitted that his mental outlook has been the bigger issue in his 2016 struggles.
Asked Monday how he could go from taking a shutout into the ninth inning in the World Series, to where he was through 10 starts this season, he said simply: “I’ve been wondering the same thing.”
Harvey has maintained all along that he felt fine physically, and Monday’s outing suggested he is indeed healthy and strong. Besides throwing his first 98 mph fastballs of the season (he threw 83 at that speed or higher last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information), Harvey maintained the velocity and threw two 97 mph fastballs in the seventh inning.
The question for Harvey and the Mets now is whether he can go from one start in which he looked like himself, to a string of starts where he pitches well.
“I think today is a first big step,” Collins said. “He feels good about the way it went. He feels good about the way he threw the ball. Now we’ve just got to build on it, and stay as positive as we can and have him repeat it. No matter what the results are, if he repeats this kind of performance with stuff, I think we’re on the right track.”
There’s no question Monday’s performance was one Harvey and the Mets needed, no question it was the type of game that proved Harvey is still capable of dominating. But the fact that one game isn’t enough to declare him back shows how far Harvey had fallen.