Unquestionably, the primary focus for the Mets this spring training will be on Matt Harvey. GM Sandy Alderson said there would not be severe restrictions on Harvey, who remains on schedule and is to throw to hitters by the end of the week.
That’s encouraging, but what is puzzling is wondering if the Mets even have a concrete plan for Harvey’s first year following Tommy John surgery. There’s supposed to be an innings cap, but so far there’s no announced number, with Alderson saying he didn’t want this to become an issue over the next eight months.
Memo to Alderson: Announced number or not, Harvey’s workload will always be an issue. Not knowing drives the media crazy and encourages it to bombard Alderson, Harvey and Terry Collins with the same questions before and after every start.
How can Alderson be that naïve about the New York press to think the issue will go away, especially as the season wears down and there is a prospect of a postseason?
First, it was thought Harvey would not pitch in the six games the Mets have on the road to open the season, but start the home opener. Now, Collins says he’ll start in the season’s first five games. How much do you want to bet he starts Opening Day and the home opener?
Alderson says the Mets have “an idea,’’ of Harvey’s limit, but not a definitive number. Harvey threw out 200, but not 215 or 220.
Alderson said Harvey will start in the postseason, but what does that mean toward the innings total?
Let’s assume the Mets get in as a wild card and run the table. That’s a potential six or seven starts; that’s at least another 40 innings. And, if they are in a race there’s no way they’ll cut him short in a game.
How does that compute? Do the Mets think 170 innings and keep adding on until their season is done? Don’t think for a second if the Mets reach the playoffs they would consider limiting him.
But, all innings count.
The ideal way is to map out a schedule that utilizes skipping one start a month, which is a possible savings of 42 innings, figuring seven innings is the magic number for a start. This can easily be done when scheduled off days are considered. And, it would not impact the rest of the rotation.
Then, Collins can pull Harvey depending on how he’s pitching that day and the tenor of the game. Those are bonus saved innings. I would hope on days Harvey doesn’t have it he’ll have a short leash.
That seems the easiest way, but the Mets won’t commit to this format. Instead, they floated the idea of sometimes earmarking a start for five innings. That’s a terrible idea because what if Harvey is throwing a gem? What if they pull him and the bullpen gives it up? That’s a backlash Collins doesn’t want to face.
This way also puts undue pressure on the team if they think they’ll have Harvey for five innings. A team must go into a game believing the starter will be with them. Plus, you would be putting the bullpen in the situation of working four innings that night. But, what if they were overused in an extra-innings game the night before? What if the next game’s starter is shelled? All of a sudden the bullpen is taxed.
The Mets’ reluctance to carve out a concrete plan for Harvey this year has nothing to do with trying to alleviate a distraction. At least not the one they think.
I believe their caution is they don’t want to risk of aggravating or annoying their temperamental pitcher, who has already in his young career has shown a willingness, if not eagerness, to spar with management.
They don’t want Harvey to become angry and create a different distraction. What they don’t understand it is better to face this now rather than have this become a lingering issue.
And, you know it will.