On a drizzly and cold Tuesday night at Citi Field, Matt Harvey took the mound for the first time this season. He was wearing an elbow-length undershirt. When he singled in the third inning of the Mets’ 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Harvey refused the customary jacket to keep his pitching arm warm.
This was the man once known as the Dark Knight, who stared down opponents with a bloody nose and a knee-buckling arsenal during his stellar 2013 and 2015 seasons.
But ahead of what could be Harvey’s final season in a Mets uniform, the team’s new coaches, under Manager Mickey Callaway, have stressed that Harvey does not need to carry that persona anymore. He just needs to be the best version of his current self.
Against the Phillies, Harvey, 29, had a slower fastball than before (90-93 miles per hour) but showed better command and a plan of attack. He used high fastballs against overeager Phillies hitters to induce flyouts or strikeouts. He allowed only one hit and one walk, and fanned five over five scoreless innings.
“He’s got that look in his eye back,” said Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who has caught Harvey off and on since 2013. He added later: “He didn’t have his best stuff but he was still in it. He wasn’t going to give up.”
Harvey’s past two seasons had been filled with struggle and injury. He showed he could recover from Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he had not been the same since a 2016 surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome.
During a 2017 season in which Harvey posted a career-worst 6.70 earned run average and dealt with a weak shoulder, only one of his 19 starts was scoreless. He matched that feat in his first start of the new season.
“Going five innings and not giving up a ton of runs is definitely a plus and something I haven’t been used to,” Harvey said with a smirk, adding later: “I’m happy I was able to do that without my good stuff or feeling that great.”
Harvey did not earn the win, leaving the game in a scoreless tie. Reliever Jerry Blevins ended a Phillies’ scoring threat in the sixth inning by striking out Odubel Herrera with two runners on base.
In the bottom of the frame, Todd Frazier and d’Arnaud gave the Mets (3-1) a 2-0 lead with run-scoring hits. On base after each hit, Frazier and d’Arnaud twisted their hands in the direction of the home dugout, as if using a pepper grinder, enacting the team’s new salt-and-pepper celebration for the 2018 season.
Harvey could have pitched deeper into the game, but Callaway pulled him after a relatively manageable pitch count of 86.
But because Harvey’s spot in the lineup was coming up in the bottom of the fifth inning and the Mets needed offense, Callaway turned the game over to a bullpen that was well rested after Monday’s game was postponed because of snow.
And he showed his modern approach to using relievers regardless of inning, deploying AJ Ramos, a setup man and former closer, and Blevins in the sixth inning against the top of the Phillies lineup. Seth Lugo pitched the seventh and eighth innings.
“They tell us to get out to the bullpen by the fourth inning, just because you never know what’s going to happen,” Ramos said. “I’m ready to pitch whenever.”
In all, the Mets allowed only three hits. Jeurys Familia pitched out a jam in the ninth inning to secure the victory.
Since taking over, Callaway and the new pitching coach Dave Eiland have worked diligently to improve Harvey, both on the mound and between the ears.