Matt Harvey, the use of his fastball, and his evolution

In last night’s 4-0 loss to the Braves, Matt Harvey allowed two runs and two hits with five walks and three strikeouts in six innings.

“It was definitely a battle,” Harvey explained after the game. “Coming out and walking five guys in the first three innings, that’s the last thing you want to do. You never want to come out and give up two runs in the first inning and throw 30-something pitches, either. I did everything I could to figure it out as quick as possible.”

Harvey fell to 1-3 for the year but improved his ERA to 3.63 for the season.

“I think it pissed me off,” Harvey said. “I’m going out and walking people. And then I go out and get smoked by a line drive. It pissed me off, to be honest with you.”

Harvey has received 1.8 runs of support per game in his four starts this season.

Michael Baron, Contributor

Harvey really gave the team a gutsy performance, and deserved better than losing. His command was an issue last night and he did walk five batters, but most of those issues were early in his start and he really settled into a nice groove after the second inning. There’s no question he struggled to get comfortable in the first and second innings, but he was able to limit the damage to Heyward’s home run despite five walks through three innings. He retired the final nine batters he faced and didn’t walk anyone after the third inning, as he worked quickly, threw quality strikes and spotted his fastball on both sides of the plate. Unfortunately, the home run allowed to Heyward was all Atlanta needed, as the Mets had no answer to Paul Maholm.

Harvey emphasized the use of his fastball last night, throwing it 63 percent of the time. He did throw his curveball and slider infrequently, but almost totally abandoned his change-up. It’s important to establish his fastball and throw it for strikes, but even he knows that’s not enough at the big league level. Harvey has said several times his change-up had become his second best pitch, but he had trouble commanding it in his outing against the Padres last Sunday. I wonder if that played into his game plan to put it in his back pocket against the Braves last night. He told me last week it’s essential that he utilize his change-up, recognize whether or not he has a feel for it, and adjust accordingly. In fact, he said Wally Backman emphasized the importance of his change-up and has been instrumental in the development of that pitch. When he’s commanded the change, it’s been filthy, moving down and away towards the left-handed hitter. That, along with either his slider or curveball makes for a great combination in and out to both righties and lefties. The change-up is most definitely a new pitch for him, and so I hope he didn’t lose confidence in that pitch because of one bad experience.

He’s still learning and exploring how to pitch at this level. Given what I argued before as an early call-up to the big leagues, these issues aren’t real surprising. Harvey’s stuff is unquestionably good, and so it’s a matter of time for all of this to come together. What’s more is he knows precisely what he needs to do, and there is such an unusual focus with this kid to get this done and pitch at a high level. In a way, it’s fun to watch this evolution, even when he struggles.