Matt Harvey has been one of the season's great stories thus far, and the Mets are thinking ahead in the hopes that the good times will continue. They've scratched him from Saturday's scheduled start, a move designed to increase the chances that he'll start next Tuesday's All-Star Game in front of a hometown crowd at Citi Field, and at the same time to slow the speed with which the 24-year-old phenom is piling up innings.
Though he's been in the majors for less than a full year and has all of 29 major league starts under his belt, Harvey has a good case to start for the National League. His strikeout rate (10.2 per nine) and total Ks (147) both lead the league, he's third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.3) and fourth in ERA (2.35), innings (130) and Wins Above Replacement (4.2). Moreover, he's taken no-hitters into the seventh inning three times, further turning him into a must-watch sensation, no small consideration for a spectacle whose television ratings have fallen upon hard times (the All-Star Game, not the Mets). One can make a strong case for NL manager Bruce Bochy to tab the more experienced Clayton Kershaw, but even the Dodgers ace has said he'd have no problem with Harvey getting the call on Tuesday.
The tiebreaker may be Harvey's home-field advantage, though the honor is hardly automatic under such circumstances. In the 50 years since the All-Star Game returned to being played just once a summer, four pitchers have started in their home ballparks: the Expos' Steve Rogers at Olympic Stadium in 1982, the Red Sox' Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in 1999, the White Sox' Esteban Loaiza at U.S. Cellular Field in 2003 and the Astros' Roger Clemens at Minute Maid Park in 2004. More recently, the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (2009) and the Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy (2011) have been bypassed when the games were held at their stomping grounds.
The Mets are lobbying Bochy for Harvey to start, with a high-ranking official telling reporters on Tuesday, "We’re trying to see that it gets done." Given the likelihood that he would pitch only one inning, the team is unconcerned that a blister on his right index finger will be an issue. It's been present for his last three starts, the second of which saw him allow a season-high five runs, but it's a small matter relative to the opportunity to generate positive publicity for the financially beleaguered, sub-.500 club.
The skipped turn will help slow the pace of Harvey's increased workload, which projects to a total of 226 innings if he makes a typically full complement of 33 starts; his first one of the second half is now scheduled for Friday, July 19, which would leave room for another 13 starts. Harvey threw 169 1/3 innings last year between Triple-A Buffalo and the majors, his high as a professional; his last turn came on Sept. 19, as he had reached the innings cap set by the team. Indeed, in recent years, teams have become cautious — perhaps overly so — about increasing a young starter's workload by more than 30 or 40 innings in a single year. The low end of that range is what SI's Tom Verducci uses to flag pitchers who may be subject to his so-called "Year-After Effect."
Even in the absence of definitive proof as to where to draw the line in terms of innings increases, it makes little sense for the Mets to push Harvey too hard, since they're not going to make the playoffs this year. According to manager Terry Collins, the team would rather pare his innings now in the hopes of avoiding a full September shutdown, as the Nationals did to Stephen Strasburg amid a playoff berth and much controversy last year. To be fair, Strasburg was in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery while Harvey has been healthy throughout his brief major league career. "There's going to be nights where he's electric and going to go deep into a game. And the next time he will probably be limited," Collins told ESPN New York's Adam Rubin, adding that it's possible the team could use a six-man rotation in September.
Harvey's skipped turn means the Pirates, their opponent on Saturday, will catch a break, but the Mets feel as though waiting until September to slow or shut him down would be more likely to affect the integrity of playoff races. A look at their September schedule suggests that may be an overstatement; the team plays contenders such as the Braves, Indians, Nationals and Reds, but also noncontenders like the Marlins and Brewers, as well as the Giants and Phillies, both of whom appear to be headed in the latter direction. As the Nationals showed with Strasburg last year, managing a young ace's workload can be a no-win situation. The Mets' course makes more intuitive sense, and it could wind up shining a spotlight on Harvey for all the right reasons.