Matt Harvey’s disappointing 2016 season hit a new low Thursday night.
Harvey gave up nine runs to the Washington Nationals before being pulled after a career-low 2.2 innings. The Mets lost 9-1.
In the process, Harvey’s ERA on the season fell to 5.77. He’s just 3-6 in nine starts, posting a 1.66 WHIP, -0.6 WAR, with 65 hits to 43 strikeouts.
Harvey’s drop-off has caught the baseball world off guard, but perhaps the stunning regression can be linked to a dramatic threshold Harvey crossed last season: his innings limit.
Toward the end of the 2015 season, much was made of Harvey crossing his 180-inning limit during the regular season. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Harvey’s agent Scott Boras and the Mets went to battle over how many innings Harvey should pitch, with Boras insisting he go no higher than 180. The Mets ended up winning the battle, as Harvey pitched 189 innings in the regular season.
That workload then continued in the postseason, as Harvey added 26 more innings to the count, while putting up impressive numbers during the Mets’ World Series run. During Game 5 of the World Series, Harvey famously pitched eight brilliant innings, ignored Mets manager Terry Collins’ request to pull him from the game, then blew the win in the ninth inning, and the Mets lost the World Series.
No pitcher has ever pitched so many innings in their first season back from Tommy John surgery.
Now, that workload appears to be catching up with Harvey. Collins admitted as much after the game, saying (via ESPN’s Adam Rubin):
“As I tried to explain to Matt again, there’s some people that don’t believe it — this kid went above and beyond last year. And I’m not sure he’s recuperated from it. I’m going to stand by it. It’s not an excuse. We don’t make excuses here. I think it might be a reason. I think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse. That’s where I stand on it. I’ve told Matt, I still trust him. I still believe in him. I’ve seen him do it. But we’ll take a hard look at what the next move is going to be.”
Bryce Harper suggested the same thing, saying, “It kind of goes back to, what, he had surgery last year and then he forced 230 innings? I feel bad for him. He comes off the mound, and he gets booed. I work out with him in the offseason. Being around him a little bit when working out, he works his tail off. You never want to see a guy do that. All the best to him.”
Tyler Kepner of the New York Times spoke to former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who’s now an analyst for MLB TV. Smoltz said he notices a sudden decline from pitchers who make deep runs in the postseason, as Harvey and the Mets did last year.
“I’ve said this: Be careful what you wish for last year. All the fans, the excitement of going to the World Series — they emptied the tank,” Smoltz said, suggesting Harvey is burned out.
There is the possibility of injury, too, which Collins suggested Harvey look into. Prior to the season, Harvey was out with a mystery injury that was later revealed to be blood clots in his bladder.
But whether the problem is physical or mental for Harvey, it may take a while for him to recover. Collins suggested he may skip Harvey in the rotation next week to give him more time to rest. If it was dramatic to see Harvey pulled after less than three innings, benching a superstar pitcher could take the hysteria to another level.
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