Matt Harvey's Spring Has Proven He's Officially Back as Good as Ever

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2015

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Matt Harvey is back. That's good news for the New York Mets as they try to put together their first winning season since 2008. More than that, though, it's good news for baseball.

When he went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow in 2013, Harvey was among the most exciting young pitchers in the game. The hard-throwing right-hander was an All-Star that year and tied for fourth in National League Cy Young balloting despite missing the season's final month and ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Now, after traipsing the long and winding road to recovery, Harvey is back on the mound and dominating like he never left.

Yes, they're only spring stats, so add the obligatory grain of salt. Still, you can forgive Mets fans for drooling: 18.2 IP, 3 ER, 1 BB, 17 SO.

Most importantly, Harvey has looked like his old self during the exhibition slate, showcasing the crackling fastball and plus command that made him such a special talent pre-surgery.

"I feel just as normal as I ever have," Harvey told The New York Times' Tim Rohan after racking up five strikeouts in 4.1 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 27, which was the young ace's 26th birthday.

Forget the cake and ice cream; Harvey served up cheddar. 

"It's all the process now," manager Terry Collins said after Harvey's birthday outing, per Rohan. "He's obviously healthy."

Harvey has struck out 17 in the Grapefruit League while issuing just one walk.
Harvey has struck out 17 in the Grapefruit League while issuing just one walk.John Bazemore/Associated Press

Even the best hurlers usually face an adjustment period coming back from Tommy John. ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin cites data collected by sports medicine specialist Dr. Glenn Fleisig that shows 80 percent of pitchers successfully return to the big leagues after the increasingly common procedure but typically take six months to hit their stride (if they last that long).

Before Harvey ever threw a pitch this spring, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen predicted an accelerated comeback.

"I just think Harvey is a different animal," Warthen told Rubin on Feb. 21. "I've got to believe this guy is going to be on top of his game right away."

Harvey may hit some speed bumps over the course of the 162-game grind, but so far, he's making Warthen look like Nostradamus. 

His swift return to form is especially important for New York now, with the news that budding stud Zack Wheeler will miss the entire 2015 campaign with, yep, a torn UCL and a Tommy John surgery of his own.

It's a painful blow to a talented young Mets staff, but the Amazins still boast reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and have touted prospect Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings.

Add Harvey, and you've got a staff that could propel New York back to relevance after more than a half-decade as the downtrodden also-ran of the Big Apple.

"Is the team capable of winning 89-90 games? Yeah, I think the team is capable," general manager Sandy Alderson said in February, per Mike Fitzpatrick of The Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports). 

That may not be enough to keep pace with the loaded Washington Nationals in the NL East. But the Mets could snag a wild-card slot. And who wants to face Harvey at the height of his powers in a one-game, do-or-die playoff?

We're getting way ahead of ourselves, of course. And maybe Alderson's lost some confidence after Wheeler's injury. But it should be buoyed, along with the Mets' chances, by a so-far undeniable fact: Matt Harvey is back.

 

All statistics current as of March 29 and courtesy of MLB.com.