Schott: Harvey Should Still Be Seen As Mets’ Ace

Matt Harvey has had a slow start to this season, but there are many reasons why he should still be considered the ace of the rotation.

Harvey started the Mets renaissance in 2013, setting a tone from the minute he arrived that things would be different, that they would expect to win.

That year, Harvey was electric and won Rookie of the Year honors with a superb E.R.A of 2.27, and because he did not get much run support, a record of 9-5.

The following season, with Harvey on the shelf due to having Tommy John surgery, Jacob deGrom arrived and he lit the place on fire.

2015 was the year that it all came together, with Harvey back, deGrom entering his second season, and Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz made their debuts and were instant successes all the way to the World Series.

One month into 2016, the debate is on as to who among these four young guns, and the ageless Bartolo Colon, is the ace of the Mets staff.

They all have compelling cases and they all bring different attributes to the table.

Syndergaard brings the heat, deGrom has nasty stuff, Matz is the lefty, and Colon can mix up his pitches and can dial it up when needed.

Harvey brings toughness and swagger, and when you think of where this team was when he arrived in 2013, with Dillon Gee and Jon Niese anchoring the rotation, that was very important.

It also is hard to be the first of anything, the trailblazer, and that was what Harvey faced, as he was the hope of the franchise, the one who all the hopes and dreams of a fanbase were pinned on him.

With Harvey as the standard, every young phenom that followed saw how to succeed at the major league level and in a big city like New York.

It is natural that, in 2016, deGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz are still the hot new things and have overshadowed Harvey and what he means to this team.

Entering Tuesday night’s start with the Braves, Harvey was 2-3 on the season, with a 4.76 ERA, as he allowed 15 earned runs and 34 hits in 28 1/3 innings.

The biggest issues have been that he hasn’t gone more than six innings in a game and his stuff has not been as lethal as last season.

Part of that could be because of the workload he had last season, throwing well over 200 innings deep into the playoffs.

It also is forgotten, because it was resolved very quickly, that he did have a health scare at the end of the spring training that could have affected his first few starts.

Harvey was not feeling well on Monday night, but he was better when he arrived to the park on Tuesday for his start with the Braves.

In his pregame press conference, Mets Manager Terry Collins said of what he was looking for from Harvey against Atlanta, “I thought the ball came out of his hand much better the other night (last Wednesday vs. Cincinnati). I thought his fastball had a little extra on it. Again, as we continue into the season, it’s all about commanding his stuff. If he keeps the ball down and keeps the slider down, he knows how to go upstairs with fastballs, gotta pitch in a little bit. He can be very successful when he pitches in, so especially against all these lefties they got in the lineup tonight, gonna be really beneficial if he can get the ball in on them so he can open up the outside part of the plate, where he likes to pitch.”

Through his first five starts of the season, Harvey had just 21 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings pitched. Harvey should go for a strikeout per inning.

Collins said of Harvey striking out less hitters this season, “When he’s on, when he’s feeling good, and he’s throwing 96, 97, because his breaking stuff is so good, you just like know. When they have to hunt the fastball, you’re going to get strikeouts on balls outside of the zone. I’m not concerned about the strikeouts, I’m more concerned about getting easy outs, to where his stuff’s crisp enough to where they’re not centered on the barrel. I think one of the things we’re trying to see, and we’ve even been seeing it out of Noah (Syndergaard), look you’re making pitches, they gotta get you early in the count because, one thing we know about the opponents when they face these guys, they don’t want to get behind. They’re attacking early in the count, and you’re seeing a lot of times, low pitches in the middle of the game, which is going to make them that much more effective later in the game.”

Harvey did for the pitching staff, and the team as a whole, what Yoenis Cespedes did for the lineup last season when he arrived – he gave it an instant spark.

Collins said of Cespedes thriving in New York, and it could apply to Harvey as well, “He’s one of those players that really feeds off the energy in this city. He is caught up in fans and the noise and it really drives him.”

It was a long process for the Mets to reach this point, and the Braves are embarking on a similar path. with young arms like Matt Wisler, who pitched Tuesday night, and Mike Foltynewicz, who started the series on Monday night.

Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the Mets’ rotation being a model for his young rotation to follow, “Great example, it really is a great example. Their organization knew they were going to build on these young pitchers, and they were patient with them, and they took care of them. Now, they get rewarded with their pitching staff. TC’s  (Collins) has gotta be thrilled every day coming in  knowing that it’s either going to be Harvey, or Syndergaard, or deGrom, or Colon, or Matz, coming in pitching that night’s game. You feel like you have a chance every night, and that’s how you win games, that’s how you wins divisions and playoffs, it’s about pitching. You give your team a chance to win every single game when you run those guys out there.”

On Tuesday night, Harvey got through the first four innings just fine, with the only hiccup coming in the second inning, when he worked out of a jam with two on base and nobody out.

As with most of his starts this season, he began to lose it in the fifth, when he allowed a homer down the left field line to the ninth hitter in the Atlanta lineup, Mallex Smith.

In the sixth, Reid Johnson singled, stole second, and scored on an A.J. Pierzynski double. Pierzynski scored later in the inning on a wild pitch during Erick Aybar’s at-bat to make it 3-0 Atlanta.

Harvey walked Aybar, struck out his fellow starting pitcher Matt Wisler, and gave up a single to Smith on his 100th pitch of the night.

That was the last pitch Harvey would throw, as he went 5 2/3 innings, and allowed three runs on eight hits, two walks, and struck out four.

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