Why Matt Harvey’s spot in Mets’ rotation isn’t completely safe

Why Matt Harvey’s spot in Mets’ rotation isn’t completely safe

Both Mickey Callaway and his pitching coach, Dave Eiland, insist they have not yet contemplated what they will do if all the members of their rotation are available to them. Around the Mets you learn quickly — even in Year 1 in charge — not to plan too quickly on having too many starting pitchers.

But we also have learned this rather fast about the new leadership. They were not brought in to rebuild. That fervor to go for it now only has been heightened by the exquisite opening to this season.

Which brings us to Matt Harvey and his place in the Mets rotation. It would be overstating things to describe it as in peril. But it would be underselling it to term it perpetually safe.

For Harvey’s spot to be in jeopardy, Zack Wheeler is going to have to do more than make one eye-opening start. Jason Vargas is going to have to be fully ready to return. The others — Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz — are going to have to stay healthy. But that is not as farfetched as it was even 10 days ago.

Neither Callaway nor Eiland wanted to touch that third rail about their current No. 4 starter. But Eiland did say about how decisions will be made, “We are here to win.”

For the first time since the third game of the season and just the second time in 2018 the Mets failed to do that Saturday night, losing 5-1 to the Brewers. Harvey failed to see the sixth inning again — that is the 11th time in a row he has worked five or fewer innings, a Mets starter record.

He yielded a couple of homers on a chilly evening when he reverted to a near exclusive power repertoire without the power to justify it.

Harvey did not pitch horribly, in fact, he was unfortunate in that Jonathan Villar’s three-run homer in the second was like a trick shot in pool — he was late on a fastball and somehow his launch down the left-field line did not hook foul.

But if Harvey did not pitch horribly, he also did not pitch wisely. He had 95-mph pop in a 1-2-3 first inning and then that velocity vanished. His slider was nowhere near the glory days and yet he threw it 27 times with just one swing and miss. Especially in his first four innings of work, Harvey lived near exclusively on those two pitches without the pop necessary to do so.

“I have to do a better job of mixing it up,” Harvey said. “I got fastball and slider happy.”

Eiland said he thought Harvey got so immersed in making sure his mechanics were sound that he did not focus enough on diversity in stuff.

“Matt has to learn to evolve,” Eiland said. “He has to pitch differently from when he was an upper-90s [mph] guy.”

Encouragingly, Eiland said Harvey had done better in incorporating curves and changes in spring and his first two starts, and stated, “Matt is very close to being very good.”

This is not an easy transition. CC Sabathia fought for three seasons against lost lightning before morphing from power to Andy Pettitte. But after both Tommy John surgery and an operation for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey must concentrate more on precision and an array of stuff.

Milwaukee’s underrated Chase Anderson averaged 91 mph with his fastball Saturday, but held the Mets hitless until the fifth and to just one run in 6 ¹/₃ innings because he deploys a full arsenal to attack the various regions of the strike zone at multiple speeds. Jay Bruce used the word “off-balanced” to describe Mets hitters, and so did Callaway.

Conversely, Eiland described how comfortable Harvey allowed Milwaukee hitters to grow by working so largely both hard and away. And with the 4-0 hole Harvey dug, the Mets’ nine-game win streak went away too.

It should be remembered that nine-game win streaks are not rare. There were nine last year alone, two by teams that ultimately finished under .500 (Texas and Kansas City). What this early run of success means about the Mets is still to be determined.

But it has made those in charge feel even more strongly that the Mets are contenders. This is not a rebuilding project. When they sent down Wheeler in spring, it was a shot that no one is on scholarship any longer.

So at some point — and soon — Harvey really is going to have to get beyond five innings and accept who he is now and find a way to succeed with that.

Or else …

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