As unusual as it might sound from a pitcher who has given up six hits in 22 innings with three wins, 25 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA, Matt Harvey wants to improve.
Its always interesting when you hear the opposing press rave about a player. Patrick Reusse, legendary Twin Cities sportswriter, and a few others peppered me with questions about Harvey as I was one of the first members of the Mets press to arrive last Saturday before Harvey’s start.
“How hard does he throw?” “How’s his command? “How’s his breaking ball?” “Is he as good as he was last year?”
They were clearly intrigued by our phenomenal young starter.
“He reminds me of Tom Seaver,” I said, “Big righthander, late life up in the zone with his fastball. His strikeout rates are actually comparable, maybe a little better.”
Funny thing, don’t mention Tom Seaver to Patrick Reusse. While Tom Terrific is revered in Met circles like no one else, I quickly realized following a remarkably colorful string of expletives (that all but made me spit my coffee out laughing), this isn’t necessarily the case in other circles.
“Harvey seems like a nice kid,” I interjected. “Soft spoken, low key.”
Reusse raised his eyebrows and laughed, “He sure isn’t like that on the mound.”
I had to concur there, Mr. Harvey is all business when he takes the hill.
“I think he’s actually been better than he was last year, his command is better.” I said, as Mr. Reusse did a double take.
Harvey’s biggest goal in the off-season and during the spring, by his own admission, was to improve his command so that he could work deeper into games. So far so good.
His changeup and slider have been working well, he’s been able to mix his pitches and change speeds both with his fastball and his changeup He’s worked his slider inside to left-handed batters, using it almost like a cut fastball with marvelous effectiveness (one notable exception), while spotting his fastball with pinpoint accuracy.
Harvey’s also been able to dial up his velocity in key spots late in games, causing you to overhear things like “reminds me of Justin Verlander that way.”
Harvey mentioned during the press briefing that his curveball needs some work, that it’s been up at times. Difficult to imagine what he’ll be like if he can get his breaking pitch working right.
Below are a collection of quotes by his teammates from the post game press conference following his last start:
Kevin Burkhardt: Asks Marlon Byrd, “After 13 starts does he wow you a little bit with the way he pitched tonight?”
Marlon Byrd: “He looks like he’s pitched 1,300. He’s one of those guys, certain guys, you know he’s bringing it to the table, that bulldog mentality.”
“To be young and throw 97 and be able to use his other pitches like he does. He hits his spots. You know he’s going to work hard and we’re going to work hard for him. It”s nice, it’s nice when he’s out there, you try to get a run or two and you know you have a chance to win.”
Burkhardt: Asks John Buck, “What has it been like catching his first 3 starts?”
Buck: “Yeah it”s a lot of fun, gives you a lot of weapons to work with. The most exciting part about it is right after, he wants to evaluate his starts, to say, ‘hey, what could we have done better here and here,’ he’s not satisfied. He knows there’s room to improve. He also liked to go over some of the good sequences as well , he’ definitely looking to get better.”
Burkhardt: ”When he asks you what can he do to get better, what do you tell him?”
Buck: “Usually it’s like a sequence I know, like a certain particular sequence, or a hitter, or when he’s had a long inning, being ready for the first hitter, little things like that, he pays attention to detail, those are the little things he wants to get better at and repeat better. That’s exciting for me.”
On whether Buck was worried about how the home run would affect his mindset:
Buck: “Yeah, no, that’s one of his pluses. To be able to stay focused. I don’t think we’ll ever see Harv back off. If anything I have to ask him to, especially in that situation. I think David went out there to see but he quickly turned away. I think he saw he (Harvey) was pretty locked in.”
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For Met fans, the excitement in the air every time Harvey starts is palpable. We find ourselves throwing out “not since … ” comments with every batter he blows away, with every overpowering high fastball.
You don’t want to miss a pitch, you hurry and grab a sandwich before his next inning. But what continues to impresses me like nothing else after these first three starts of his season is his demeanor, his understated intensity and his desire to improve.
This kid is the definition of “special.”
We’ve got a good one on our hands Mets fans.