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If there were boos at the start, he overcame them. Matt Harvey’s battle Tuesday night was not with the few fans at Citi Field who were stung by his latest off-the-field controversy. The fight the Mets righthander had yet again was trying to find himself on the mound.
Making his first appearance at Citi Field since he was suspended May 6 for not showing up to the ballpark, and the ensuing embarrassing headlines about his partying and love life, Harvey was greeted largely by quiet indifference then had to fight through his lack of command and lower velocity as the Mets bats bailed him out for a 9-3 win in front of a reported 24,337 fans.
“Obviously he wasn’t real sharp tonight,” Terry Collins said. “You know we all want this guy to rise to the top so fast because we know how good he can be. You know what? Even during those times he had that plus stuff whether it be 2013, or 2015, once in awhile he didn’t have very good stuff. He’s gotta be able to pitch through it. Tonight he pitched through it with not very good stuff.
“He just didn’t have his command, wasn’t very good. His velocity was down. He worked, he had to work hard to get through the fifth inning and he did that,” the Mets manager continued. “There is a space for that in the process of getting better. There’s nothing wrong with it, being able to go out there and battle your butt off and keep your team in the game.”
And for now that battle — and to follow team rules and show up at the ballpark — is seemingly all the Mets can reasonably ask from Harvey.
At this point with pitching injuries so pervasive throughout baseball and their own organizational pitching depth thin, they have to take what he can give them.
The pitchers on the disabled list are not coming back anytime soon.
Noah Syndergaard (torn lat muscle) is out for at least a couple months. Seth Lugo (torn ulnar collateral ligament) and Steven Matz (elbow discomfort)) were both shelled in their rehab starts Tuesday night and are not coming back this week.
Even their “healthy” pitchers are dealing with issues.
Zack Wheeler, coming off a two-year rehab from Tommy John surgery, had his start pushed back a day, until Friday, to try to manage his innings and fight fatigue. Jacob deGrom also needs an extra day as well to let a blister on his right ring finger heal. The Mets have to use struggling righthander Robert Gsellman Wednesday and likely will bring back Tommy Milone, the stopgap they signed after Syndergaard was hurt, who was shelled in his last start on Saturday.
For a team built to win on dominant pitching, the Mets need Harvey to figure it out.
But, after surgery to address the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last July, a surgery that removed the top rib on his right side, the Mets have no idea how to guide him back. Or even when or if he will get back to the All-Star version of himself in 2013 or the dominant pitcher coming back from Tommy John in 2015.
TOS is a relatively rare, much rarer than the Tommy John surgery he came back from in 2015, and has had mixed results.
For Chris Young, 2013 TOS surgery was a career saver and he came back to win a World Series with the Royals in 2015. Chris Carpenter had his in July of 2012 and returned to win a playoff game, and then never pitched in the majors again.
So there is no guideline for Harvey fighting back from this.
Tuesday he needed 103 pitches just to get through five innings. He held the hapless Padres to two runs on three hits and four walks. He struck out six, with four of those coming in the last two innings.
The Mets and Harvey immediately tried to build off that.
“The best inning was the fifth, which is very positive for me,” Harvey said. “Especially because I have had some starts where I’ve gone deeper in the game and it’s kind of unraveled. So going out there having my best in the fifth was good for me.”
It would not have been a good night for Harvey in 2013 or even in 2015 when he was coming back from Tommy John surgery. But Tuesday night, Harvey and the Mets can hold on to that inning as he continues to battle to get back to feeling like himself on the mound.