Matt Harvey Cements Place Among MLB's Best Young Aces After Strasburg Duel

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IApril 20, 2013

On a slightly overcast night at Citi Field in New York that saw the wind blowing out, two young hurlers got together for an early dream matchup.

Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals was already an established star before this night. Fans and experts alike have wondered aloud what kind of year he would have after the training wheels were taken off, having been limited to 160 innings last year.

New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was making only the 14th start of his MLB career, already putting together an impressive portfolio of starts that has Mets fans salivating for more.

It was a game billed as a marquee matchup between two young guns, and the 26,675 fans in attendance can honestly say that they weren't cheated.

Harvey out-dueled Strasburg, going seven strong innings and allowing just one run on four hits. He struck out seven and pitched his way out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in his final inning.

Strasburg by comparison looked pedestrian, allowing four runs—two earned—on five hits with six strikeouts in six innings. Strasburg gave up home runs to Ike Davis and Lucas Duda as well.

On this night, Harvey clearly had the upper hand, and he served notice to the rest of the league that he is ready to stake his claim as the best young ace in baseball.

Harvey vs. Strasburg: Career Matchup

Harvey and Strasburg are certainly alike in many ways, but the following stats clearly show that Harvey has the upper hand. Here is a breakdown of each young fireballer's first 14 starts in their careers.

Strasburg 76 5-3 2.72 1.03 11.8 7.2 .220
Harvey 88.1 7-5 2.14 0.98 10.5 5.3 .172

Strasburg was just a year younger when he made his 14th start, and it was only his second after returning from Tommy John surgery.

With Harvey's effort on Friday night, the conclusion one would gather is that he clearly has the advantage. Strasburg has a slight edge in overall strikeouts, but Harvey has him beat in every other category.

Harvey is already in exclusive company in terms of the fast start to his career in Mets history. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York gives us this interesting tidbit.

And here's another one for good measure.

Harvey has Mets fans all abuzz thinking about the possibilities. Dwight Gooden gave fans the same feeling back in 1985, and there's no reason to think at this point that Harvey can't come close to doing the same.

If being judged solely on his passion, Harvey clearly wants to reach those heights.

Harvey and His Passion

Before the game began on Friday, it was clear that Harvey was well aware of the hype leading up to the marquee matchup. It was also clear to Mets manager Terry Collins that Harvey was ready to face the challenge—his game face was on.

"He's usually not quite that grouchy," Collins told Anthony Dicomo of "When your manager walks up to you and the first thing you want to do is bite his head off, you're a little bit on edge."

Harvey has been described as intense, and it was clear before the game that he wanted no one invading his space before embarking on his pregame routine.

Harvey was considered to be a great talent in the minors, but not necessarily ace material. Mets assistant general manager John Ricco explains to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:

The lesson to me is that you don't know what this arena is going to do for a player. Some guys raise their game here, and some guys can't.

With Matt, he's brought his A-game every time out at this level of competition. In the minors, on a smaller stage, maybe you feel like you can get guys out without your best stuff. Here, he's bringing it, and his best is pretty good.

Mets third baseman David Wright has similarly been impressed with Harvey's demeanor and approach.

He's embraced the spotlight and embraced the stage. He welcomes it. It's important for a young starting pitcher to have the mentality, "I'm better than you."

It's not so much cockiness as an extreme confidence. He has that [mentality] where he believes he can go out there and dominate you. And more often than not, he does.

The dominance over Strasburg on Friday night was certainly an indication of just that.

Is It Fair to Compare?

ESPN's Baseball Tonight highlighted the Harvey performance on Friday night. Analyst Rick Sutcliffe pointed out that Harvey brings the complete package as opposed to Gooden's fastball-curveball approach at the time.

In addition, Harvey is five years older than Gooden was—that maturity level will certainly be a factor for Harvey as he continues to face pressure situations early on.

It would have been understandable if manager Collins had decided to pull Harvey after loading the bases in the top of the seventh inning with no one out and a run already in.

That, however, was when Harvey was at his best.

He struck out catcher Kurt Suzuki, got pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina to pop up meekly to catcher John Buck and got the dangerous Denard Span to end the inning with a grounder to second base.

Harvey pulled off a magic act and shut the door, exiting to tremendous applause by the Citi Field faithful. One Twitter fan pointed out the one important trait that aces have.

On this night, Harvey bested Strasburg. Considering the strong division rivalry, it is just the first of what could be many matchups between the two young guns.

At times, Strasburg will come out victorious. He's no slouch when it comes to passion and talent. But on this night—and in this moment—Harvey came out on top.

There shouldn't be any question in anyone's mind that at this point in time, Harvey is the best young ace in baseball. His outing on Friday night was clear proof that the youngster has only just started on his journey, and that journey could well lead to lofty heights.

Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.


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