There is a likable quality to Matt Harvey having nothing to do with his pitching.
He speaks with confidence that doesn’t border arrogance. He has a big time arm without the big time attitude. He’s attentive to your questions, and thoughtful and respectful with his answers.
Harvey has a big time future, but doesn’t come across as a big timer. The tip-off is he carries his dirty T-shirt and shorts to the laundry bin instead of leaving them on the floor for the clubhouse attendant.
He’s acutely aware of the expectations, vocalized in the ovation he received Opening Day Monday at Citi Field, second only to David Wright in terms of length and volume.
“It was great,’’ Harvey said. “It made me feel very good.’’
Now comes the hard part, living up to the expectations of those in the stands, his teammates behind him in the field, and most of all himself.
“He has a lot going for him,’’ Wright said. “He carries himself well and pitches with confidence. We believe in him.’’
Injuries thrust Harvey into the Mets’ rotation last July and he responded, pitching with guile, poise and command. Other times, not so much. In ten starts, Harvey went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA, including an 11-strikeout debut at Arizona. He wasn’t impressive in his lone start against the Padres, giving up five runs, but lasting five innings.
Based on last year’s numbers, there is a multitude of scouting reports and statistical projections of him. Harvey wants to hear none of that and cites one number.
“Innings are most important,’’ said Harvey. “I want to pitch over 200 innings. If I can do that, the rest will come.’’
Harvey accomplished much last year, but didn’t win at Citi Field. He gets his chance tonight against the Padres.
“It’s a new season and everybody wants to get that first win out of the way,’’ Harvey said on Opening Day. “Pitching at Citi Field is awesome. … [Tonight] is going to be a lot of fun for me. I’m really excited about it and after watching [Jon] Niese out there [Monday], it was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to my turn.’’
The original scouting report on Harvey was sketchy, but he’s no longer a surprise. Every team has him on film and knows his tendencies. That’s why it is important to tone down your expectations because often a pitcher hits a wall in his second year and realizes what he counted on before might not work now.
Harvey said his sophomore year is about making adjustments. He realizes he can’t get by on just a fastball. He realizes he can’t overpower everybody. He realizes he must bring more to the table.
“You can’t get into a routine and rhythm of doing the same things over and over again,’’ said Harvey, who had a spectacular 2.96 ERA in seven starts this spring.
“I think that kind of carried over into spring training too, facing a couple of teams, the Nationals, things like that. Those guys have seen me before. It’s just going out and attacking the zone and try to mix in different pitches in different counts and hopefully not leading every guy off with a fastball, or something like that.’’
There are nights Harvey can dominate, as he did the Diamondbacks. However, strikeouts cause the pitch count to add up, and with it, the possibility of coming out of a game early.
“I want them to put the ball in play,’’ Harvey said. “I want to keep my pitch count down and that will give me length.’’
Yes, Harvey has a plus fastball, but said it’s important to throw his curveball and change-up for strikes, especially in a fastball count.
“I can’t have them waiting on the fastball,’’ said Harvey, repeating the mantra of ever pitcher outside a knuckleballer.
If he does that, those expectations will be met, and with that, come even higher expectations.