Rehab timelines aren't very flexible. Physical therapists work through a protocol and when an athlete can do all the necessary tasks, they move on to the next one. If they can't, they repeat. Where things get a bit more flexible is once an athlete is past the rehab timeline and into the return timeline. That's where Matt Harvey is now and that fact has oddly put the New York Mets in a tough position.
Matt Harvey is ready to throw from a mound. In a perfect world, he'd be starting a rehab assignment sometime in late June or early July. That would put him on track for a return around Aug. 1, enough time to get the "six or seven starts" Harvey told Tom Verducci of SI.com he would like to make. This would be very akin to the return of Stephen Strasburg a couple seasons ago, something of a cameo appearance that gave equal parts confidence and a tease for potential season-ticket holders.
Where things get odd is that the Mets don't want to see Harvey back at Citi Field this season. The team long since decided that their goal is to have Harvey back at full strength for 2015, not just pitching at the tail end of 2014. The Mets' brain trust is an intriguing combination of old-school and new-school baseball minds, but they are also very data-driven and have shown that they are willing to take a long-term focus.
Harvey is pushing to return at just 10 months after surgery, which is on the low end of return timetables, but is certainly not unheard of. The Mets are more comfortable seeing him at the far end, about 12 months, which would actually push his return into the offseason. That would make his actual return come at 18 months, giving him a full, normal offseason program and a full, normal spring training routine.
There's a hint in Harvey's interview with the New York Post that his agent, Scott Boras, is against the quicker return, but Boras has never pushed himself into discussions like this in the past. While Boras isn't hesitant to make his positions known to teams or his clients, hinting that he's going to be a problem here has no history.
Harvey does say there are going to be changes when he returns, whenever that is. He's put on some weight due to relaxing his workouts and he's not going to do his full-go bullpen sessions that left him in a lather and his catchers icing their sore hand.
Whatever version of Harvey we see later this year, there's certain to be some tension about whether he's going to make it back to the Mets this season. He'll get some good crowds to Coney Island and Las Vegas, to be sure, but Harvey wants to pitch in the Big Apple. We'll see whether that happens soon enough, once we see when he starts a rehab assignment.
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