In a start at home for AAA Buffalo that was described as Matt Harvey’s final audition for the big league rotation, the 23-year old took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HBP, 0 HR. I counted 102 pitches, but the official box score has 100 and 58 for strikes.
The four walks he allowed were his most in eight starts since a five-walk outing in Toledo on June 3. He lowered his AAA ERA to 3.34 with 106 strikeouts and 46 walks in 105 innings with the Bisons. Command is absolutely still an issue: he has walked 20 in his last 45.2 innings (3.94 BB/9 IP).
He worked mostly off three pitches, a fastball at 93-95 which sat at 94 mph, a curveball and a changeup.
In so many ways, Harvey looks different and, for the most part better, than he did early in the year. Whereas in April, he relied on a slider more, Monday, his prime breaking pitch, which looked more like a curve, had more depth than sweep. It’s a short, hard breaking pitch.
His changeup produced three of the swings and misses on his four strikeouts. As I tweeted in-game, that’s just a better pitch than it was on Opening Day. Apparently, he’s changed the grip on the offering, and come up with something unique over the course of this season, which is awfully interesting.
The fastball looks different too. It had more sink to it than it did early. At the start of 2012, he had trouble getting the pitch down in the zone and was up and over the middle of the plate too often. Monday, he both got in on the hands of right-handed hitters, and induced plenty of grounders (11 overall) with his heater. He still struggled at times to command the pitch, issuing four-pitch walks, on all fastballs, to begin the second and fourth innings.
Harvey still needs to learn to trust his off-speed stuff. In the sixth, it looked like he started off the inning with eight straight fastballs which produced two singles against him. The first was on a 2-0 count to the #9 hitter who squeezed it by Josh Rodriguez at short. Had he mixed in something off-speed there, he might well have bought himself a strike. After that fastball-heavy sequence, he started the subsequent batter off with a changeup and then used a trio of curveballs to induce a grounder to first. He threw mostly fastballs (five of six if my notes are correct) to the subsequent hitter before losing him to a walk. Then, Harvey induced what should have been an inning-ending ground ball for a double play that Josh Satin kicked to allow a run to score.
In the seventh, working above 90 pitches, Harvey started all four batters he faced with fastballs, allowing a single, a HBP and producing a pair of groundouts. He bequeathed two runners to Justin Hampson, who allowed one to score. Seven innings of shutout or one-run ball narrowly eluded his grasp.
Harvey is not a finished product. He could benefit from more time to refine his fastball command and become more comfortable with creative sequencing of his pitches. However, at least against the Toledo lineup, he could get away with being predictable because the Mud Hens could not square up his heater. After all, this is a Toledo lineup second from the bottom in the International League in batting average (.246), fifth from the bottom in on-base percentage (.325), and third from the bottom in slugging (.373). Perhaps it is only big league hitters who can force him into learning big league sequencing with more first-pitch breaking balls, and later sequence secondary offerings. His secondary stuff is good enough, the curve and slider both have above average movement, but he just needs to throw them more.
Finally, the question of whether Harvey is finished is too abstract. The question facing a Mets’ team, short a starter, in the heat, of yes, a playoff chase is whether Harvey offers an upgrade on Miguel Batista for the fifth staters’ spot. The answer to that was yes last week, and it remains yes following his outing Monday. Batista still has 31 strikeouts against 28 walks in 43 innings and an ERA of 3.98.
Is Harvey ready to dominate in the big leagues? No. There will be good outings and rough ones. Again, however, the Mets don’t need dominance, just an improvement on Batista. Harvey can do that.