Matt Harvey Day finally arrived, and it was everything for which the Mets could have hoped. Pitching in a regular-season game for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2013, the 26-year-old Harvey spun six shutout innings against the Nationals, striking out nine and scattering four hits over the course of 91 pitches. Taking advantage of an Ian Desmond error, Harvey's teammates pounced upon opposite number Stephen Strasburg in a four-run third inning en route to a 6–3 win.
On a grey, rainy afternoon at Nationals Park, Harvey came out of the gate with a 96-mile-per-hour inside fastball that Washington centerfielder Michael Taylor took for a strike, the righthander's first pitch in a regular-season game since Aug. 24, 2013—593 days ago—in his final start before going on the disabled list with a strained ulnar collateral ligament. He finished Taylor off with an 83-mph curve for his first strikeout of the afternoon. Here it is, via MLB.com:
After walking Yunel Escobar, Harvey recovered to strike out Bryce Harper for the first of three times, finishing him off with a 97-mph heater that was just off the plate. Here's the whole four-pitch sequence, via @MetsKevin:
Harvey needed 18 pitches to work though the first and threw 22 in the second, working around a two-out double by Desmond and then an infield single by Dan Uggla, whose hot smash down the third base line would have scored a run had David Wright not made a diving stop, though his throw pulled Lucas Duda off of the bag. He used another 83-mph hook to escape the frame, as Jose Lobaton looked but could not touch.
The Mets rallied for four runs against Strasburg as five batters in a row reached after Harvey began the inning by striking out. A Curtis Granderson single, a Desmond error on a potential Wright double-play grounder, a hit-by-pitch of Duda, an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and then an infield single by Daniel Murphy brought home the first two runs. After Juan Lagares popped out, Travis d'Arnaud followed with a two-run bloop single to shallow center.
Staked to that 4–0 lead, Harvey cruised, his command at least somewhat improved. He notched three strikeouts in a 17-pitch third marred only by an Escobar infield single, getting Strasburg looking at a 95-mph fastball, Taylor swinging at a 95-mph fastball and Harper chasing a high 97-mph heater. He needed just eight pitches in the fourth and 12 in the fifth, with Strasburg striking out on a foul tip, but he didn't get a 1-2-3 inning until the sixth, after the Mets added two more runs and chased the Nationals' starter. That inning was bookended by swinging strikeouts of Harper (96-mph fastball) and Cliff Robinson (88-mph changeup), the last of which marked his final batter of the afternoon. Harvey was expected to throw between 90 and 100 pitches, and with a six-run lead, there was little reason to push him further.
The Nationals scratched out three runs against a parade of four relievers, including one against fill-in closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth, but they couldn’t get the tying run to the plate.
For the afternoon, Harvey threw first-pitch strikes to 20 out of the 23 hitters he faced and generated 15 swings-and-misses from among his 91 pitches. Nine of those whiffs came from among the 56 four-seamers he threw, and according to the preliminary PITCHf/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, he averaged 95.9 mph with that pitch, with a high of 97.6; those figures may be adjusted upwards once park and pitch classification corrections are applied. Via Brooks, Harvey averaged 97.0 mph on the four-seamer in 2013, when he pitched to a 2.27 ERA in 26 starts totaling 178 1/3 innings before going on the disabled list.
In all, it was a very encouraging day for Harvey, who showed he’s capable of recapturing his ace form, and for the Mets as a team. With the win, they not only took two out of three from the division favorites, but they also did so on the road—though to be fair, the lack of Anthony Rendon, Denard Span and Jayson Werth made this a less-than-representative Washington lineup. Still, it counts as a win, and if the Mets are to break their streak of six straight seasons below .500 and eight without a trip to the postseason, they’ll need to take them where they can find them.