MILWAUKEE — Too much of the chatter around the New York Mets‘ Matt Harvey over the past week has been about what he needs to do as a person and a teammate. With his outing Friday in a 7-4 New York loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, he showed he also has a lot of work to do as a pitcher. And he knows it, which might be the silver lining in all this.
Harvey made his first start for the Mets after serving a three-game suspension earlier this week, handed down when he failed to show up for New York’s game last Saturday against the Marlins. To say it didn’t go well might be an oversimplification. Yet to say it went well would be flat wrong.
“Obviously it didn’t end very well,” Harvey said. “It’s not the start I wanted to have.”
Let’s start with the negative: Harvey went five-plus innings, allowing five runs, striking out six, walking five and giving up three homers. On the last front, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Harvey; after all, the Brewers’ 59 homers lead the majors. But the homer total matched Harvey’s career high, as did the walks. Harvey was chased after giving up a single followed by back-to-back homers to Eric Sogard and Orlando Arcia to start the sixth.
“My job is to go out and keep the game tied and give us a chance to really open things up after that,” Harvey said. “I got behind in the count and left the ball in the middle of the plate. I left the ball out in the middle of the plate and that makes things difficult.”
Harvey was crisp in the first inning, dispatching the Brewers on just 10 pitches, but lost command during a marathon second inning that saw him burn through 34 pitches. According to ESPN Stats & Information, his struggles were as bad as they’ve ever been. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 11 of the 27 hitters he faced, the lowest rate of his 89 career starts.
“Second inning, third inning, he really struggled,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Fourth inning and fifth inning, he threw the ball great.”
All three homers Milwaukee hit against him came after a first-pitch ball, a common theme in Harvey’s recent struggles. He’s already allowed 10 homers over seven starts, more than he allowed during three of his first four big-league seasons.
“Location, when you miss down over the plate and you’re behind in counts, you’re going to give up home runs,” Harvey said. “They’re professional hitters. It’s what they do. I think there is a lot of work to be done. We’ll start tomorrow and try to get things back on the right track.”
The lack of control was startling to see from Harvey. After all, this is a pitcher who in 2013 and 2015 — seasons sandwiched around his Tommy John surgery — had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.6-to-1. Yet on Friday, his strike rate of 55.1 percent was the worst of his career.
“It’s hard,” Collins said. “You feel for him. It’s like anything, when you see a guy who has set the bar so high for what you expect out of him … the game is hard. You’re coming off surgery and it’s a process to get back.”
Another 2017 theme that continued for Harvey was his inability to consistently put hitters away when he did get ahead. When Harvey burst onto the scene in 2012, he struck out 50 percent of opposing hitters once he got two strikes on them. This season, that numbers is down to 29.5 percent.
“The past two or three starts have been pretty terrible,” the 28-year-old said. “Obviously there is work to be done to get things back on track, which is the main goal right now.”
Nevertheless, to say that Harvey’s outing was without redeeming qualities wouldn’t be fair, either. Through five innings, he had battled out of several jams, limiting Milwaukee to just two runs, and he entered the bottom of the sixth with the game tied 2-2. That was the upside for Collins.
“Fifth inning was his best inning of the night,” Collins said. “We were hoping we could get through the bottom of the order so we could worry about the matchups later on. But couldn’t do it.”
With the Mets’ bullpen taxed and with closer Jeurys Familia out for several months, New York needs to get more innings out of its injury-ravaged rotation. The Mets particularly need more innings out of Harvey, which is why he returned to the mound for that sixth inning even though he had thrown 97 pitches.
“We could certainly have taken him out at that time,” Collins said. “I thought the way he was throwing the ball, we could have gotten another inning out of him. Then it really would have been a positive.”
Harvey’s fastball had also lost some zip. According to Statcast data from baseballsavant.com, Harvey’s average four-seam fastball clocked at 94.3 mph or better during the first three innings. By the fifth and the sixth, that number was down to 92.6 mph.
So consider it a first step. Harvey was in the clubhouse early Friday, sitting quietly with teammates and preparing for his start. His postgame media session was also drama-free. All the talk was about baseball. The conversation was back where it needs to be. But now, the results need to follow.
“This guy is one of our top pitchers,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get six innings out of him. I thought after the fifth inning, he was really starting to get it down. I’m sure he’s upset about the sixth.
“But he limited the damage. I hope he takes that.”