NEW YORK — The two pitchers have crossed paths once, enough for a quick introduction by way of their shared representation, but they don’t really know each other. Still, they’ve seen the highlight films, each doing some of the jaw-dropping things that have brought a good deal of hype to Friday night at Citi Field.
That’s where New York Mets ace Matt Harvey will take the mound in one half-inning, and Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg will take it in another.
It’s as marquee a matchup of young power arms as there has been thus far this April.
Even manager Davey Johnson, who was in the dugout when Dwight Gooden’s Friday night starts at Shea Stadium turned into events in the 1980s, seemed intrigued though he qualified his statement with a smile, saying he’s “not necessarily looking forward to any Metsy games.”
“I’m glad they’ve got another good young pitcher coming along who’s showing a lot of promise,” Johnson said. “That’s good for New York and good for baseball. [That matchup is] interesting and I’ll look forward to it.”
For Strasburg, the path to this point has been one littered in hype. He’s used to being the headliner on at least one side of the ticket. That’s what happens when you reach phenom status before your first major league pitch and, regardless of performance, the one thing you do without fail is put people in the seats.
But as far as caring who’s on the other side, Strasburg’s focus is elsewhere.
“He seems like a really nice guy, but as far as watching what he does compared to what I do, I kind of want to do my own thing,” Strasburg said. “I’m still trying to learn.”
“You’re not facing [the opposing pitcher],” he added. “You’re facing the other team. I get pumped up for every game. I look at what I need to do to get their hitters out, not what I need to do to beat the other pitcher, because this game’s crazy.”
In three starts this season, the 24-year-old Strasburg is 1-2 with a 2.95 ERA and his body of work that includes two starts without an earned run sandwiched around one in which he gave up six. That’s where the learning comes in.
“I can’t just go out there and out-stuff it every time,” Strasburg said. “That’s getting to the point for me where, guys know what I have. I’m just trying to learn how to pitch a little bit more.”
For Harvey, who is also 24, it seems the matchup carries a little more weight.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he told ESPN New York this week. “I know the extra adrenaline is going to be there. It’s going to be one of those things where you have to tone it down.”
The Nationals faced Harvey once last season, a 2-0 victory over the Mets in which he allowed one earned run off five hits and three walks in five innings but struck out 10. That was the first time the two right-handers might have met on the field, but Strasburg had already been shut down at that point in the season. John Lannan took his place and pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
This year, in starts against San Diego, Philadelphia and Minnesota, Harvey is 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA having gone no fewer than seven innings in each start.
“He’s unreal, I can tell you that,” said outfielder Bryce Harper, who also faced Harvey in Double-A in 2011. “He was absolutely wicked [in the minors]. He had really good stuff all the time. The things he throws, 95-98 mph four-seamer, the hammer he has, he throws really well. He’s special.”
Harper brings his own hype to the equation, of course, hitting .364 heading into Friday’s matchup and coming off a game in which he battled illness to go 4 for 5. He was 0 for 3 against Harvey in 2012 and he readily acknowledges that Harvey “carved me” in the minors.
The matchup of the two pitchers, however, emoted little more than a shrug from the 20-year-old.
“Not really,” he said, asked if it brought an extra level of adrenaline to the equation for hitters. “You just try to have good at-bats and try to make him throw a lot of pitches so you don’t have to face him for six, seven, eight innings. Get inside that bullpen. Harvey’s a guy that, if he gets comfortable and he’s throwing well, you don’t want that.”
Sounds like something opposing hitters have said about Strasburg on many an occasion.
“We’re both young guys,” Harvey told ESPN New York, sounding perhaps more familiar than he realized.
“But I don’t necessarily want to be like anybody else who I’m pitching against. I want to be an individual.”