Matt Harvey hits 99 mph and looked like his usual dominant self

“Things felt so good that the fact that I did have surgery was completely out of my mind.”

–Matt Harvey

It began with a sweet, sweet scene out in the bullpen before the game. As Matt Harvey warmed up, the Mets pitching staff gathered behind him, and when he was done, they surrounded him for a brief prep rally/welcome back moment.

And then he was off and running.

He touched 99 mph and was consistently in the 96-98 mph range with his fastball. He threw a couple of nasty curveballs. And he needed just 25 pitches to finish his two perfect innings. He struck out four, including one on a curve.

“The big thing was throwing strikes and not walking anyone,” Harvey said. “Those are the things you try and work on, especially hearing things about guys going through this process. Tough command.  That was the big thing I was focusing on and pretty happy about it.”

The Mets still have worries about Harvey, beginning with how his right elbow holds up in the wake of Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2013 season. They worry that he’ll overdo it, so they’re slowing him down as much as possible.

On the other hand, he’s special. He’s always going to be different. He’s got that personality, too. He’s always going to be in the middle of things. Afterwards, he admitted he’d missed it all terribly.

“It was tough,” he told SNY. “I love being out there. not being able to do that was very tough at times.”

This was his first game in 560 days. It was a first step, nothing more. It’ll be weeks and weeks before we know for sure if Matt Harvey is back on his previous career path.

When we last saw him–on August 24, 2013–he was one of the two or three best pitchers in baseball. Let’s review:

  • He was No. 1 in FIP in 2013 at 2.00. That’s one of the purest ways to evaluate a pitcher apart from the circumstances that impact so many of his numbers.
  • He was No. 2 in WHIP at 0.93, trailing on Clayton Kershaw (0.92).
  • He was third with a 6.16 K/BB ratio.

Now for the good stuff:

  • His fastball was No. 1 in the majors at 95.8 mph, according to Fangraphs.com
  • His slider was No. 1 at 89.9 mph.
  • His curveball was No. 1 at 83.5 mph.

We love the art of pitching. We love someone’s ability to throw strikes and change speeds and to keep hitters off balance. But there’s nothing as compelling as a guy who throws the hell out of the baseball.

That’s the guy who challenges hitters, who is unafraid to make it me versus you. There’s a swagger to those kinds of guys. And that’s the other interesting part about Matt Harvey.

He carries himself in a way that may make him the most interesting athlete in New York if he can stay on the field. He’s not just good. He knows he’s good.

He carries himself like a star, and so this summer every single start he makes at Citi Field is going to be an event. We have to walk when he steps onto the mound because there just might be something we’ve never seen before.

Guys like Matt Harvey are good for the game. He may annoy the Mets at times with his swagger, but as Tony La Russa once said, “All the great ones are just a little bit different.”

The Mets are so optimistic that they’re good enough to contend again. They’ve got young pitching stacked up and a healthy David Wright and a packed farm system.

And if Harvey is healthy and if he’s at the front of that rotation, the Mets could end up being can’t miss television. And so on Friday afternoon, Matt Harvey made a meaningless exhibition game anything but.

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