Matt Harvey doesn’t shy away from the “power pitcher” label. And he doesn’t avoid talking about how he’s close to joining the Mets’ starting rotation. The 23-year-old right-hander only has one year of professional baseball under his belt, but his confidence and power arsenal don’t portend a long stay in Triple-A. That’s where the 2010 first-round pick is beginning the season, and he talked about his repertoire — which includes a pair of new-and-improved pitches — following his first start, a 4-2 loss to Pawtucket on April 5.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
Matt Harvey: I like to think of myself as a power pitcher. I throw my fastball a lot — whether it’s my sinker or my four-seamer. I try to get ahead with that, get weak contact and move it in and out. It’s what I’ve always done. I’ve always thrown pretty hard. My curveball is pretty hard. My slider is pretty hard. My fastball is pretty hard.
DL: How important is velocity to your game?
MH: It was early on, but one of the things I’m learning is that a hard fastball can be just as easy to hit as a weaker fastball. Up here, you need location and you need to keep the ball down. You also need to have movement. I’ve learned that pro baseball is more about location and movement than trying to pump the radar gun.
DL: Trevor Bauer recently addressed the merits of working up in the zone.
MH: That’s if you’re working your power stuff, and using your high fastball, especially late in the count. If you’re pounding down, you can change the eye level a little bit. For me, it’s living down when I need to and getting weak ground balls. Then, maybe on an 0-2 count, I’ll climb the ladder.
I like to throw the two-seam early. I like to try to get early contact with that, because if you can sink it down you’re going to get ground balls. Maybe the count is even, like 1-1 or 2-2, and you get a little run or sink on it to get a ground ball. I like to use the four seam to hit spots if the two-seam is running a lot that day. If I’m going away to a righty — or in to a lefty — it’s mostly the four-seam.
DL: I understand you’ve made some adjustments to your two-seamer.
MH: I’ve changed the grip on it and am letting it work more. I’m getting a little more pressure on my middle finger — I’m keeping it on the seam a little longer than normal — and letting it sink in to a righty, and away to a lefty. Before, it was a little inconsistent [because of] the grip I was using. Now I’ve found a grip that I’m really comfortable with. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m happy with where it is.
DL: In which ways it is a work in progress?
MH: It’s mostly finding out how much it’s moving on a certain day. That’s the biggest thing. Some days it will move a ton, and some days it just moves a little. It’s mostly a matter of finding out what it’s like in the bullpen and working with what I have that day. Some days it’s running real good and other days it’s sinking down — the kind of action I want. It’s the whole pressure thing, working on different pressures with my fingers and moving the seams a little bit. It’s something I worked on in the off-season.
DL: You’ve also been working on your slider.
MH: [Mets pitching coach] Dan Warthen helped me out with the grip during Spring Training. I threw it last year, but I didn’t really know how to throw a slider. I kind of offset it and just threw it. This year it’s the grip — throwing it like a fastball — and letting it work.
DL: Baseball America actually rated your slider as being the best in the system prior to the start of Spring Training.
MH: Last year, for the first three-quarters of the season, it was probably my best out pitch. Like I said, that was despite not really knowing how to throw it. This year I have the actual grip of how to throw a slider. It’s on its way. I’m throwing it as hard as I want to — in the 85-to-88 range — and that’s where I want it.
DL: How did you adjust the grip?
MH: I just moved it up in my hand. I moved the ball in my hand so that the seam is a little bit more on my middle finger. It’s more toward the U. Basically, I’m just throwing it like a fastball and letting it roll off that finger. I’m getting pretty good action with it.
DL: Are you still throwing a cutter?
MH: No. Toward the later half of last year, my slider was getting a little loopy; it was starting to get into my curveball a little bit. During the off-season I kind of thought about just making it into a cutter, but once Dan showed me the grip on how to throw a slider, I got it right back.
DL: Even without the cutter, you throw a wide array of pitches.
MH: Yes and no. I’m not going to go out there trying to throw eight different pitches. For me, throughout the game, it’s mostly three. I’ll definitely bring four or five out — but on a more consistent basis, it’s the sinker, the four-seam and the curveball.
DL: What about your changeup?
MH: I’ll throw it when it’s needed. I like to show it, obviously, and I like to throw it to lefties. Now I’m starting to throw it to righties, too. I’m getting a better feel for changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance. That’s a big thing at this level, and it will be especially big at the next level.
DL: How close to big-league ready are you?
MH: I’d like to think I’m right there. It’s never my decision, but I’m always going to be ready, both mentally and physically. It’s just a matter of the people deciding that I’m ready.
When I’m on the mound, I’m trying to get the hitter out. It’s baseball. That’s not going to change unless you let it change. There are obviously great hitters in the big leagues — they’re there for a reason — but you just have to go after them and make your pitches. I won’t be [intimidated].
Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks on Harvey: “He’s a good pitcher. I faced him last year, as well as [on April 5]. He’s very firm. The ball gets on you real quick. It looks like this year he added a two-seam, which looks to have some good sink to it. Last year, I saw a lot of four-seams. I also saw a slider. He had a really good curveball last year, and last night I saw both a curveball and a slider. The two hits I got were on fastballs. The first was middle-away and a mistake. The second one was a two-seamer and a pretty good pitch. I was protecting with two strikes and managed to get the barrel on it.”
Buffalo manager Wally Backman on Harvey: “Matt’s a power guy with a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Right now, it’s a developmental thing for him to work on his secondary stuff. He’s going to be real good at some point in time. I feel that he’s going to be a quality starter in the big leagues, but it’s still a learning process for Matt.
“He absolutely could [get called up this season]. He just needs a little bit of development. He’s gotten better. He worked on a lot of things during the winter. Personally, I’d like to see Matt develop the rest of this year before he goes to the big leagues, but it depends on the needs of the big-league club. I think he’ll probably be ready to go up there and help by June or July.”