- - Sunday, September 6, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Matt Harvey woke up Sunday morning to find out he was public enemy No. 1 in New York.

“Harvey Two Face” read the front-page headline in the New York Daily News.

Matt Harvey needs to know that if he eventually stops pitching for the Mets this season because of an arbitrary innings limit in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, then he will be remembered around here, for as long as he pitches around here, as the star Mets pitcher who quit on his stool because that’s what his agent told him to do,” wrote Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica.

Late Sunday afternoon, though, Harvey wrote in an essay on Derek Jeter’s athlete’s website called “The Players Tribune,” saying that he and the Mets will work it out.

“Together, we are coming up with a plan to reach an innings limit during the season,” Harvey wrote. “It will be a compromise between the doctors and the Mets organization to get me, and the team, to where we need to be for our postseason run.

“I understand the risks. I am also fully aware of the opportunity the Mets have this postseason. Winning the division and getting to the playoffs is our goal.

“Once we are there, I will be there.”

We shall see. There are a few innings between now and then, and we don’t know yet what compromise means.

But, as the Mets arrive in Washington Monday for a key three-game series, Harvey should realize that this isn’t New York. You’re among friends here. We understand.

The Mets are clumsily struggling with how to handle their young arms — particularly Harvey, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. They also have the challenge of what to do with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, who are both pitching more innings than they ever have, and have all of September ahead of them.

deGrom and Syndergaard are not like Harvey though. They are not recovering from Tommy John surgery. At least not yet.

But Harvey is, and since he has Scott Boras as an agent, he has come out and said that — much like Stephen Strasburg was in 2012 — he should be on an innings limit this season, and revealed he has the backing of Dr. James Andrews in his position on a cap.

“Dr. Andrews said his limit was 180,” Harvey told reporters. “I hired Scott as my agent and went to Dr. Andrews as my surgeon because I trusted them to keep my career going and keep me healthy.”

Harvey has pitched 1661/3 innings so far this year. He is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Nationals. Even with the Mets plan to skip a start in the rotation, Harvey will likely be over 190 innings by the end of the season. Then, if the Mets reach the postseason and have a successful run, Harvey could wind up pitching 220 innings this season.

Why would he do that?

Why would Harvey do anything other than what Boras has recommended after seeing what how successful the plan in Washington worked with not just Strasburg, but Jordan Zimmermann, who Harvey will face Tuesday?

Everyone forgets, but it was for Zimmermann — not a Boras client — whom Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo implemented the innings limit plan as part of recovery from 2009 Tommy John surgery.

Since then, Zimmermann has pitched 875 innings without incident. He has posted a 66-43 record over that time, and earned $32 million. He is about to become a free agent and about to get paid maybe not as much as everyone thought before this season began, but enough.

Then there is Strasburg, the pitcher most identified with the shutdown limit. Since having Tommy John surgery in 2010, Strasburg, who is scheduled to start Wednesday against New York, has pitched 672 innings. While he has had a number of physical ailments, none have been related to the elbow and the surgery. He has posted a 46-33 record in that time, and earned $25 million since the surgery.

No one can sure if the Rizzo plan is responsible for that, but that’s the curse of the approach. The Nationals can never be proven right, even as their two prime pieces of evidence have been productive and made money.

If you’re Harvey, how can you ignore that?

How can you look at what Zimmermann and Strasburg have done and NOT say, “I’ll have what they’re having?”

How can you not look at the “anti-Strasburg” — Kris Medlen — and wonder why anyone would risk a recovery plan other than what Rizzo did here in Washington with Zimmermann and Strasburg?

Medlen, coming off Tommy John surgery, was celebrated as the “anti-Strasburg” in a Sports Illustrated article. Atlanta had Medlen pitch out of the bullpen early in the season to limit his innings in 2012 when the Braves, like the Mets now, were battling the Nationals for the NL East division title.

Two years later, Medlen had his second Tommy John surgery.

Were the Braves wrong? Who knows? But if you’re Harvey, and you want to best preserve your chance at a long major league career, why would you risk anything other than what has worked?

For the glory of the New York Mets?

“Son, I don’t care if you can’t remember your name. Put your helmet on and get back in the game. We need you to win.”

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has put the target on Harvey’s back — instead of what Rizzo did, which was to take the pressure off the player.

Matt’s going to have to make a decision,” Alderson told reporters. “Scott (Boras) wants us to make it, and take it out of Matt’s hands. But this is a 26-year-old man here, not some 18-year-old kid. He’s an adult. This paternalistic attitude that Scott might have toward his clients, that’s not going to be duplicated by us. We’ve done our research and our due diligence.

“But we do need to finalize this with Matt, because it affects all our other pitchers, and our baseball team. We have to have some certainty.”

Can you give Harvey some certainty, Sandy, about his future? I didn’t think so. There is none.

One thing Alderson did say that is nearly a certainty “it affects all our other pitchers.” It probably will — and I doubt the Mets will handle it the same way the next time.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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