In a New York Mets season that has gone from uplifting to unbearable, Matt Harvey's debut Thursday night offers a bit of hope. To a rotation all of a sudden bitten by the injury bug, the prospect's call-up borders on desperation. But to his development, the promotion is necessary.
General manager Sandy Alderson and the rest of the front office have discussed the patience they would take with prospects, the process more important than providing a short-term fix that could end up overwhelming to a youngster. Before the Mets went into a freefall where they lost 12 of 13 and six straight, the rumblings of Harvey's promotion surfaced because of his improvements at Triple-A and the statistics that backed that up. He was the best candidate to replace Dillon Gee after he was deemed out for the season. He would therefore give the Mets the best chance to win, and they'd take the risk of his ups-and-downs because they were in the playoff hunt through the season's first half.
But now Gee and Johan Santana are on the disabled list, Miguel Batista was cut and (reluctantly) Jeremy Hefner has returned to the rotation. The minor league depth is so thin, that even after one of his worst starts of the season (six earned in six innings), the Mets are giving the kid a chance because they have no choice. There is nobody else to turn to.
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While before, Harvey may have felt the pressure of keeping the team in the playoff race, now the challenge is a different one. It's about stopping a plummet that seems endless. Debuts are nerve-wracking to begin with, but the top prospect has the weight of being a stopper as well.
It's important to note that just because Harvey may be the only option, it doesn't make him a bad one. His numbers at Triple-A: 110 innings, 48 walks, 97 hits, 112 strikeouts and a 3.68 ERA are nothing overly spectacular. But the scouting reports are often more telling than the overall numbers. He reportedly still has some command issues, and he still needs to refine his changeup into a more usable offering. But Harvey was a first-round picks, now 23 years old. He's a college pitcher who went to a big baseball school. And he's had a year and a half of minor league development time, improving every step of the way as he begins to fulfill his front-of-the-rotation promise. The Mets have hope he makes a smooth transition, but in reality their "expectations" are that of a player taking the next step in his development, some good and some bad.
Unless the promotion ends up as a complete disaster, Harvey will stick in the rotation for the rest of the season. Growing pains should be expected. But challenges iare part of a player's growth. The major leagues are the most unkind type, as the necessary tweaks he needs to make will become evident soon. Harvey may realize his command needs to be more precise, his breaking balls need to be crisper and his changeup sharper. He may realize that he can't get lefties out without a true pitch that tails away and keeps them off his hard stuff.
But that's all part of the learning process. This two-plus month get-your-feet wet deal may should be more valuable for next season and the seasons down the road.
And at this point, that's more important -- and exciting -- than anything the rest of this season will have to offer.