WASHINGTON -- New York Mets ace Matt Harvey picked up right where he left off in 2013, when his stellar performance led to starting the All-Star Game for the National League.
In his first regular-season game in 593 days, Harvey blanked the Washington Nationals for six innings in an eventual 6-3 rubber-game win by the Mets on Thursday afternoon.
Harvey last pitched in a major league game on Aug. 24, 2013. Two months later, he underwent Tommy John surgery.
"As we have come to see, nothing he does surprises you," manager Terry Collins said.
Harvey allowed four hits and one walk and struck out nine. The only thing that forced him to depart was a conservative pitch count by the Mets. Harvey departed after logging 91 pitches, with the Mets leading by six runs.
"I don't know if I could draw it up any better," Harvey said. "For me, it was nice to have that six-run lead and really just be able to pound the zone. I thank the offense for that. It made it easy to throw strikes."
Harvey's first regular-season pitch in 19 1/2 months sizzled at 96 mph to Michael Taylor for a called strike.Harvey averaged 95.6 mph on 58 fastballs -- just two-tenths off his pre-Tommy John surgery average fastball velocity in 2013.
He struck out Bryce Harperall three times he faced him, on upper-zone fastballs that registered 97, 97 and 96 mph.
"He's tough out there," Harper said. "I keep saying it. I've said it a million times. He's gonna be Cy Young one day and everybody knows that. He one of the toughest at-bats I've ever had. I've said that a million times also."
Said Harvey: "Obviously we watched the last two games, and his bat was pretty hot. He hit the homer off Bartolo [Colon] and had a couple of hits yesterday. For me, I think really focusing on him was kind of a big challenge today." In the second career meeting between the aces, Harvey again outdueled Stephen Strasburg.
Harvey had taken a scoreless effort into the seventh inning on April 19, 2013, in an eventual 7-1 win by the Mets over Strasburg and Washington. That day, fans at Citi Field chanted "Har-vey's better, Har-vey's better."
This time, Mets captain David Wright chased Strasburg with a two-run single in the sixth as the Mets took a 6-0 lead.
The pro-Mets contingent at Nationals Park chanted the familiar "Har-vey's better, Har-vey's better" as Strasburg headed toward the dugout.
Harvey faced runners on the corners with two outs in the second, but struck out Jose Lobaton looking at an 83 mph curveball to escape. Wright's diving stop toward the line had limited Dan Uggla to an infield single rather than an extra-base hit during the preceding at-bat. It forced Ian Desmond to stop at third base, where he was stranded.
Strasburg pitched better than the six-run total indicated. An error by Desmond at shortstop led to a four-run third inning. Three of the runs were unearned. Actually, had Desmond cleanly fielded Wright's grounder, the Nats likely would have turned an inning-ending double play before any runs had scored.
Harvey's fastball averaged nearly 96 mph, equivalent to during his dominating 2013 season, when he went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA in 26 starts. In the days leading up to Thursday's start, Harvey had suggested he would be impervious to any emotions. However, he acknowledged afterward feeling some nostalgia as he took the mound.
"The excitement of being back on the mound in a regular-season game definitely set in when I was done warming up and walking in," Harvey said.
Harvey said he "wasn't as fine as I'd like to be" early in the game. Still, he focused on pounding the zone once the Mets took the 4-0 lead in the third. Eventually, his curveball and slider proved lethal, as did the fastball Harper continually chased high.
"It's kind of how spring training went," Harvey said. "I was able to throw anything in any count, and was just fortunate enough to do that today."
Harvey said the full-season absence did not change him much, but it has caused him to focus even more on each individual pitch.
He had walked a relatively modest 57 batters in 237 2/3 innings over his first two major league seasons, but has resolved to slice that rate. In spring training, he walked only one batter in 22 2/3 innings while posting a 1.19 Grapefruit League ERA.
"I'm going to make those guys earn it to get on base," he said.
Collins has predicted battles with the ultracompetitive Harvey are looming this season, when the manager tries to remove him from games due to conservative pitch counts. On Thursday there was no argument.
"If it was a one-run ballgame, or two runs, I think it would have been a different story," Harvey said about his willingness to depart. "But the early runs and having a good cushion ... it wasn't as tough as it probably would be normally with a closer game."
Teammates lined up in the dugout to congratulate Harvey after he struck out Clint Robinson to complete his sixth and final inning.
"It was great. They've been so supportive the whole time," Harvey said. "To come in and hear a lot of 'welcome backs' is very nice."
Information from ESPN's Stats & Information was used in this report.