New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon
April 13, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Coming up at Citi Field, the night New York Mets fans have eagerly anticipated for more than a year and a half: Matt Harvey back on the mound in Queens.

Harvey is set to make his first home start in nearly 20 months Tuesday when he faces the Philadelphia Phillies. The star pitcher missed last season while recuperating from Tommy John surgery to remedy a torn elbow ligament detected in August 2013.

''I think for our fan base it's going to be a huge day for them, because they've been waiting a long time to see him,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said before the team's home opener Monday. ''Even though today is opening day, tomorrow is going to be pretty exciting.''

General manager Sandy Alderson all but acknowledged the club avoided pitching Harvey on Monday in the hopes of drawing more fans for its second home date, which often attracts a thin crowd.

NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom started instead and pitched the Mets to a 2-0 victory over Philadelphia before a sellout crowd of 43,947. The only time more fans filled Citi Field was the 2013 All-Star Game started by Harvey.

The home opener was already close to sold out when the Mets set their rotation late in spring training.

''It's good to get this one out of the way. Now we get to see the big boy tomorrow. That'll be fun,'' Collins said.

Harvey started the third game of the year in Washington last Thursday and looked sharp. The right-hander tossed six shutout innings and defeated Stephen Strasburg in a 6-3 victory, delighting a throng of Mets fans who made the trip.

''We saw the response when he pitched in Washington. I mean, we might have outnumbered the Nationals fans,'' Collins said.

Speaking in the Mets' clubhouse Monday morning at his relocated locker - next to deGrom's and back in line with the active members of the rotation - Harvey downplayed his return to Citi Field.

Mostly, it seemed he didn't want to take attention away from teammates who were in the lineup for the home opener.

''I don't want to make a story about it, but you know it's obviously exciting to be home,'' he said. ''It's much anticipated and we're all excited to be back.''

Beginning immediately with his first outing in spring training, Harvey's velocity and command have been particularly impressive in his return from reconstructive elbow surgery.

''I think everything through spring training has been right where I want it. I'm pretty thrilled with how everything's feeling and how things are going,'' he said.

Harvey threw 91 pitches last week against the Nationals and fired his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s (mph) with a slick curve and changeup. He gave up four hits and one walk while striking out nine, but still saw room for improvement.

''Definitely be a little bit more fine. For me I think 90 pitches through six innings is not good enough,'' he said. ''I think if I'm throwing 90 pitches I'd like to get at least into the seventh, so I think tomorrow definitely early attacking a little bit more, a little bit better, a little more fine, and try and get us later into the ballgame.''

Harvey received perhaps the loudest ovation during pregame introductions Monday. He is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in five starts against the Phillies.

''I think your home crowd is always behind you, and for me they've been great. They've always been extremely supportive and very uplifting for me,'' Harvey said.

You May Like