Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey give Mets reason for hope ... and concern

ByJerry Crasnick ESPN logo
Monday, March 6, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey showed over the weekend, not all injury rehabs are created equal.

The two New York Mets' starters made their spring training debuts Saturday and Sunday and generated markedly different storylines -- not to mention box score lines.

In the first half of the rehab doubleheader, deGrom toyed with the Houston Astroson Saturday for 26 pitches and was borderline flawless for two innings. Even if the radar gun at Houston's new park was a bit charitable, manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen were taken aback when the outfield scoreboard flashed "97" in response to several deGrom fastballs.

After deGrom retired George Springer, Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve in order in the first inning, Warthen turned to Collins in the dugout and observed, "That's the Jake deGrom we know."

Harvey wasn't as fortunate in his quest to resurrect his old Dark Knight of Gotham persona. He breezed through the first inning against St. Louis, then yielded a three-run homer to Cardinals outfielder Jose Martinez and failed to get out of the second inning. He needed 39 pitches to record five outs.

It's no surprise that deGrom would look better out of the gate. In September, doctors repositioned the ulnar nerve in his right elbow to alleviate some discomfort as well as numbness in his fingers. That procedure doesn't sound like much fun, but it wasn't nearly as arduous as the medical ordeal experienced by Harvey, who had a rib removed in July to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

Appropriately enough, Harvey came down with a stiff neck the day before his appearance and the Mets briefly considered bumping him back a day or two. But Harvey insisted on pitching and treated the neck soreness with a heating pad.

Harvey mixed in two 94-mph fastballs while sitting in the 91-93 range against the Cardinals. He'll need to ratchet that up in the coming weeks, but an American League scout who watched him Sunday thinks it's too soon to obsess about gun readings.

"I saw kind of what I expected to see," the scout said. "He had some command issues, and the velocity wasn't close to where it has been. But I don't think you could have expected a whole lot more.

"It's his first outing. It's March 5. I don't think he should be terribly disappointed by what he did."

Harvey made his telling admission when he observed -- unsolicited -- that he needs to be more diligent with his off-field preparation after his 2013 Tommy John surgery and the thoracic outlet syndrome procedure. He took some criticism for being out of shape last season, and a second scout in attendance at Sunday's game observed that he looks more "fit" this spring.

"I definitely realize that I need to put in more effort before I go out there and just throw or run," Harvey said. "You need to take care of your body better, and that's definitely a change from this year to last.

"It's about making sure I've covered all my bases in the morning -- whether it's stretching or arm rehab or prevention. My body feels great and my arm feels great."

In the absence of a decent sample size, Harvey's rocky outing merely sets the bar for expectations. One Grapefruit League start with a heater in the low 90s is no big deal. If those gun readings persist, Harvey can expect to receive more scrutiny. Nobody said it would be easy hanging with Noah Syndergaard and deGrom at the top of the New York rotation.

"You have to keep things in perspective," Collins said. "Because of the way Noah came out throwing 99, and then Jake 97, everybody was hoping Matt would be 96. The process is really not that way.

"When he finds his release point and that consistent delivery he normally has, you'll see better command of his stuff. As that gets better, I think then we can worry about building up velocity."

Collins and Warthen will be dealing with this routine on an almost daily basis, as they try to nurse each starter not named Syndergaard or Robert Gsellman through some kind of issue. Next comes Steven Matz on Monday against the Miami Marlins, with Zack Wheeler set to make his spring training debut Friday versus Atlanta.

More than the occasional Tim Tebow sighting or Yoenis Cespedes' long home runs -- followed by painfully slow home run trots -- the health of the Mets' starting pitchers is the story of their spring. Until all the questions are answered, the mood will be day-to-day.

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