- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2016

NEW YORK — It was unclear who, exactly, walked off the mound Thursday night. The back of the jersey said “Harvey,” but the scoreboard said Nationals 9, Mets 1, with just one out in the third inning.

During his short night, New York Mets starter Matt Harvey was booed with progressive levels of lust. When Anthony Rendon doubled to drive in two runs, the verbal disdain began. Wilson Ramos’ single brought it up another notch. Ben Revere’s triple was the final blow. Before the third inning was over, Mets manager Terry Collins came from the dugout to mercifully end the bludgeoning taking place in the town square.

“BOO!”

Harvey stared at the ground as he departed. He stepped past teammates in the dugout, head down, receiving consolation pats on the behind, then turned to the dugouts steps and disappeared from sight; the shortest night of his career piled into what could become the longest season of his life.

His ERA is 5.77. Five times this season, Harvey has thrown more than 100 pitches. He’s not made it past the sixth inning.

“BOO!”

Pitching versus Stephen Strasburg accentuated Harvey’s predicament. Each was swarmed by hullabaloo following Tommy John surgery. The Nationals shut down Strasburg — babied him as it were — for preservation. That decision and Strasburg’s talent resulted in a $175 million extension for the right-hander just two weeks ago. He looks lethal. Harvey came back from missing 2014 because of elbow surgery to throw 216 innings last season. There was discussion about limiting him then. The Mets — and he, eventually — decided not to. The cost of being diligent is short-term grousing. Long-term, it can be a profitable tactic.

Mets fans were not the only ones irritated with Harvey’s current failings. Nationals outfielder — and fellow Scott Boras client — Bryce Harper had choice comments after the Nationals‘ 9-1 win. Harper works out some with Harvey in the offseason. He also has a hell of a time hitting him. Harper was 0-for-21 lifetime against Harvey before a third-inning single Thursday night. The difference in Harvey was apparent to Harper.

“The lack of — 91-93 [mph] instead of 97-98,” Harper said. “I think that goes back to he had surgery last year and he forced [216] innings. I feel bad for him. He comes off the mound, he gets booed — he’s one of the best in baseball. Working out with him in the offseason, being around him a little bit when we workout, he works his tail off. You never want to see a guy [work hard and be booed] and all the best to him.”

The Mets suddenly have a flood of pitching concerns. Harvey may miss his next start. Steven Matz threw a bullpen session Wednesday. It was his first mound appearance since May 9. He missed his last start because of left forearm soreness. Matz is expected to start Friday, but will be on a conservative pitch count. Jacob deGrom’s ERA is just 2.50. But, he’s striking out almost half as many hitters as last season. Two other numbers hint he’s not quite right: Fangraphs’s expected fielder-independent pitching for deGrom is 3.97. Usually, that number is about a half a run above the existing ERA. DeGrom’s is almost 1.5 runs higher. Also, his velocity has dipped across the board. His average fastball is down to 92.5 mph from 95 last season.

Compiled, the group is enough to give Mets fans Generation K-level shivers.

“This kid went above and beyond last year,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of Harvey. “And I’m not sure he’s recuperated from it. I’m going to stand by it. It’s not an excuse. We don’t make excuses here. I think it might be a reason. I think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse. That’s where I stand on it. I’ve told Matt, I still trust him. I still believe in him. I’ve seen him do it. But we’ll take a hard look at what the next move is going to be.”

Beyond Harper, the Nationals were providing no sympathy. Taking two out of three games from the Mets pushed their National League East division lead to a game in front of the idle Phillies and 2.5 ahead of the ailing New Yorkers.

Strasburg’s ERA is steady at 2.80, though he feels his recent outings have only been so-so. Two starts ago, his off-speed pitches came and went, he said. Thursday, his “cutter thing” didn’t work the way he wanted. Yet, he’s 7-0 this season. He’s one of three undefeated pitchers in the major leagues. The others are both in Chicago: The White Sox’s Chris Sale is 9-0. The Cubs’ Jake Arrieta is 7-0.

“I think that’s probably my go-to saying, ‘Giving the team a chance to win,’” Strasburg said. “I really do believe that. There’s going to be games where you don’t have your best stuff, but you’ve got to do everything you can to keep it close.”

The Nationals pulled on their fancy travel duds after the game. Jayson Werth worked a a gray three-piece suit, mourning the fact that he would have to leave behind his beloved New York City pizza. Their flight to Miami was a couple hours away. The Mets stayed in New York. A three-game home series with Milwaukee Brewers was coming up. On more than one level, the teams were heading in different directions.


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