Matt Harvey, whom the Mets drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2010, began the year as a much-ballyhooed prospect. Coming out of college, Harvey was expected to progress quickly, and he has — he reached Double-A by the end of his first professional season, and started this season in Triple-A. Now he has graduated to the show, and if last night is any indication he may just be in it for good, in what has become an imposing New York starting rotation.
Harvey started the season slow, allowing 12 runs in his first three starts, and never making it past the fifth inning. He did manage to strike out nine batters in those first 13 innings, but he also walked eight. In his fourth start though, he announced his presence, with the first of his three 10-strikeout games for Buffalo, as he set down 10 across six innings. Starting with that outing, and ending with his start on July 16th, the Connecticut native compiled a 2.74 ERA and struck out 97 batters in 92 innings. In those 16 starts, he never allowed more than four runs, and he only did that once. Then, on Saturday, he got knocked around a little bit, allowing six runs in five innings. But rather than taking a hard line with their prized prospect — Harvey was ranked 26th by FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet before the season, and he moved up to 22nd in the midseason rankings — they rewarded him. Sure, Harvey wasn’t his sharpest in his last Triple-A outing, but Mets manager Terry Collins and Triple-A manager Wally Backman basically admitted that Harvey was bored. And after last night’s start, it’s no wonder that he was.
Last night, the opposing Diamondbacks started what was basically a normal lineup — Gerardo Parra played center instead of Chris Young, but it’s not like Parra is a stranger to regular duty. Also, Ryan Wheeler started at third base, but with Ryan Roberts no longer with the team, that position is currently in a state of flux. Other than that, it was all the regulars. And while Arizona is one of the more strikeout-prone teams in the majors, the game was also in their ballpark, where they score on average, the second-most runs in the National League. And Arizona has been hot too. Before being held in check by Jeff Francis and the Rockies on Wednesday, the Diamondbacks had scored six or more runs in seven straight games, five of which came at Chase Field. So for Harvey to go out and dominate such a lineup was more impressive than normal, especially for his major league debut.
Not only was the start impressive because of the trying environment, but also because of how he pitched. This wasn’t just rare back and fire. While Harvey did have excellent velocity, he showed that his breaking pitches can be weapons as well. Four of his 11 strikeouts — two curves, two sliders — came on breaking pitches, and all four were swinging strikeouts. He also spread the love around, as he struck out six of the starting position players, with Parra and Justin Upton striking out twice and Paul Goldschmidt striking out three times. Goldschmidt was the only player who struck out looking, everyone else went down swinging. And while strikeout totals are often inflated by the opposing pitcher, Wade Miley was only victimized once on the evening. In all, Harvey struck out at least one batter in all six innings he worked.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect outing. As Marc Hulet noted yesterday, walks have always been an issue for Harvey, and when he walked two of the first three batters in the sixth, he was pulled quickly. He will have to keep working on that aspect of his game, but obviously the early returns were overwhelmingly positive.
The long-term outlook for the Mets’ rotation is just as positive. Assuming Dillon Gee is recovered in time for the 2013 season, New York’s opening-day rotation could feature five pitchers capable of posting sub-4.00 FIPs. Actually, if Jonathon Niese’s home-run rate deflates as it should, sub-4.00 might be conservative. In R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Gee, Niese and Harvey, the Mets have five guys who can rack up the strikeouts and put their team in a position to win on a regular basis. Harvey’s start last night only tied for the 20th-best Mets start of the season by game score (70).
Last season, when the Mets acquired Zack Wheeler, he was looked upon as the potential savior of the team’s rotation. Fast forward 12 months, and you can envision a scenario where the Mets may have to trade someone — likely Santana if they ate enough of his contract — just to find Wheeler a spot in the rotation. Matt Harvey has only thrown 5 1/3 innings in a big league uniform, so we should count those chickens for a little while longer before we let them hatch, but after such a dazzling debut, Mets fans can be forgiven if they are starting to dream big.
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