PORT ST. LUCIE — We’ve now reached a familiar superhero trope for the Dark Knight of Flushing:
“There’s two kinds of players: Those who are humbled and those who will be,” Terry Collins said Monday at Tradition Field. “And Matt got humbled last year a little bit. He’s bound and determined to do it to somebody else this year.”
Can Matt Harvey regain his pitching superpowers? The answer carries clear consequences for the Mets, whose chances of securing a franchise-record third consecutive postseason appearance would improve dramatically if Harvey can pitch like he did in 2015 or, even better, 2013.
Yet the Mets can reach their destination even if Harvey finds the thoracic outlet syndrome that felled him last year too difficult to overcome. They have Noah Syndergaard looking to build on his fantastic 2016 and Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler returning from their own surgeries as well as Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo coming off surprisingly successful rookie campaigns. They’ll also field a lineup that should produce more runs than last year’s meager total of 671, the worst of any playoff qualifier, as long as they hit with runners in scoring position at a league-average rate.
No, the drama surrounding Harvey concerns his personal saga more than his team’s. For he has been one of New York’s most compelling figures since his 2013 rise. And in order for him to retain that status and regain his nine-figure contract potential for his free agency after next season, he must honor his superhero narrative. Everyone knows that after the humbling comes the revival.
“Right now I’d like to just continue on the process for spring training and stay healthy,” Harvey said Monday. “I’m really not looking ahead toward performance right now. We still have a month and a half to go of spring training. Obviously, you look at the things that we can accomplish, it’s more of a process now to stay healthy and make sure we continue to do that.”
Boring answer for us. Great answer for him and the Mets. Harvey, who will turn 28 on March 27, honored the Crash Davis protocol for what to say when you’re returning from an injury.
Which, you might recall, the right-hander fully ignored the last time he rode this track. Harvey made a constant, public spectacle of himself in 2014, driving the Mets batty, while rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. Many more clashes with his team and the media followed.
Maybe time fueled Harvey’s wisdom, or perhaps the rare occurrence of this injury (and the un-Harvey like 4.86 ERA that resulted from the condition), relative to the ubiquity of a torn UCL, unnerved him. Perhaps he has just become better at saying the right thing. Regardless, he won his first 2017 news conference.
“I’ve told [Mets pitching coach] Dan [Warthen] and Terry, throwing a baseball is one of the easiest things I do,” Harvey said. “And to go through a process like that of really not having an idea why it’s so difficult to throw, it became pretty tough. Kind of looking back on the way I handled it, everybody wishes they could go back and change something. But it was a tough process, and I’m glad to be in spring training and healthy.”
(Asked what he would do differently if he could, Harvey hinted he would have undergone an examination sooner.)
For the first three days after the procedure last July, Harvey revealed, he couldn’t feel his right hand, a “big scare” caused by “a nerve block.” He feels back to normal now, he said, and he began throwing off a mound in early January at his agent Scott Boras’ Sports Training Institute in Southern California. He threw off a mound on Monday.
“I feel great,” he said.
Collins, always honest, admitted, “We aren’t sure how many guys have really bounced back from the injury [Harvey] had to be what they were the year before. If anybody can do that, Matt Harvey will be one of those kinds of guys that can regain that dominance there once was.”
Superheroes defy the odds, right? The citizens of Flushing eagerly await the resolution of this tale.
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