Matt Harvey's struggles continue in inauspicious return from suspension

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Saturday May 13th, 2017

Matt Harvey may have apologized for last week’s bad behavior, but in his first start since his three-day suspension by the Mets, he looked like the same pitcher who has scuffled all season in his return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. Facing the Brewers at Miller Park, the 28-year-old righty served up three homers in five-plus innings, though to be fair, he deserved a quicker hook from manager Terry Collins.

Harvey was suspended by the Mets for three days last Saturday due to accumulated violations of team rules. It was later reported by the New York Post that he had stayed out partying until 4 a.m. on Cinco de Mayo, played golf the next morning, then contracted a migraine and failed to follow team protocol for calling in sick. The Mets decided to push back his return until Friday not only because they wanted him to throw a side session but because they were concerned that having him pitch Wednesday at Citi Field would open him up to hostility from angry fans. Instead it was the Brewers, who came into Friday averaging 5.35 runs per game at home, who gave Harvey rude treatment.

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Harvey worked around a two-out single in a 10-pitch first inning, but slogged through the second inning, issuing a leadoff walk to Domingo Santana, an RBI double to Jett Bandy and two more walks that loaded the bases. He fell behind five of the inning’s seven batters—an ongoing problem all night—and threw 34 pitches, but his strikeout of Eric Thames on a high and inside 96 mph fastball limited the damage to a single run.

It did not end his woes, however. After falling behind Hernan Perez 3–1, Harvey served up a solo homer on a 96 mph outside fastball and needed 23 pitches to complete the inning, though he did strike out a pair. He worked around two walks (one intentional) in the fourth, and finally put together a 1-2-3 fifth on 14 pitches.

At that point, Harvey’s pitch count was at 97, and his lack of command was glaring. He’d thrown just 55 pitches for strikes, including 10 out of 24 first pitches. Trailing 2–1 and with the pitcher due to lead off the top of the sixth, it seemed like a no-brainer for Collins to call upon a pinch-hitter, particularly with Josh Edgin warming up in the bullpen.

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But no. Harvey grounded out, and while the Mets tied the game at 2–2 on Neil Walker’s solo homer off Matt Garza, it didn’t stay tied long. Keon Broxton reached on an infield single to start the sixth, then Eric Sogard, in his second plate appearance as a Brewer, hit a towering two-run homer to right field, 399 feet according to Statcast—just his ninth homer in parts of seven big league seasons. Surely it was now time for Collins to go get Harvey. Apparently not. Harvey fell behind pinch-hitter Orlando Arcia, 3–1, and he followed with a 422-foot solo homer to right center, running the score to 5–2. The Brewers wound up winning, 7–4.

In all, it was hardly a reassuring outing for Harvey—who, to be fair, is coming back from a significant injury. According to Brooks Baseball, his four-seam fastball averaged just 94.8 mph, a hair below his season average of 95.0; all three homers came against the once-imposing heater. Though he matched his season high with six strikeouts and set a season high with 11 swinging strikes from among his 106 pitches, those numbers would have constituted an off night two years ago. He got just two swinging strikes from among his 30 breaking pitches. His five walks ran his total to 13 over his last 14 2/3 innings, while the three homers gave him 10 allowed in 40 innings, a gaudy 2.3 per nine.

Harvey’s season ERA now sits at 5.63, his FIP at 6.47—unsustainably bad numbers for any pitcher, regardless of health or history. Perhaps a return to his normal routine, free of the shadow of his suspension, will help, but at this juncture, a return to his ace form seems less likely than ever.

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