The Matt Harvey who is pitching for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic is not the Matt Harvey who burst on the scene with the Mets in 2012, was one of the best pitchers in baseball by 2013, and an absolute bulldog in 2015.
Gone is The Dark Knight, replaced by The Godfather, which Harvey is now calling himself as he anchors Italy’s staff.
To watch Harvey pitch now is to observe someone who is trying to reinvent himself at 33 years old, with his mid-90s fastball gone — along with his once-vaunted slider. Harvey’s fastball now sits around 90 mph, and it is obvious that he will never again be a guy who overpowers opposing hitters.
In two starts for Italy, Harvey has a 1.29 ERA over 7.0 innings, allowing four hits, walking just one, and striking out three. No conclusions should be drawn from those stats, at least early on, because of the competition Harvey has faced. But something that is obvious is that he is a much different pitcher than he was in 2021 with the Baltimore Orioles — the last time he pitched in the majors.
In 2021, Harvey’s average four-seam fastball was 93.6 mph after averaging 94.5 mph in 2020 with the Kansas City Royals and 93.2 mph in 2019 for the Los Angeles Angels. When Harvey was at his best (in 2013 and 2015 with the Mets) his fastball was ordinarily around 97 mph.
The aforementioned blazing fastball (and Harvey’s slider) vanished following surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which he underwent in 2016. And in the years after, as Harvey tried to succeed as a Met and eventually an Angel, Royal, and Oriole, it seemed that he was still trying to be that overpowering guy. Not anymore.
In listening to Harvey speak, he is at ease, comfortable with who he is now as a pitcher — and with the fact that the heights he reached with the Mets in the 2015 World Series are a world away from where he is now.
While discussing Harvey, it can’t be ignored that he is coming off a 60-game suspension stemming from his disclosure of drug distribution, which he spoke about while testifying during the Eric Kay trial.
In that trial, where Kay was found guilty of supplying drugs that led to the July 2019 death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, Harvey also discussed his prior drug use, including cocaine and oxycodone.
There is no way to treat the above as an aside. However, Harvey is not the same person he was four years ago. And an argument can be made that he deserves another chance in the majors, which would almost certainly start with a minor league deal.
It should be the Mets who give him that deal, in effect bringing him home.
A big part of this is emotional.
Harvey should’ve been a perennial All-Star and career Met. He was basically the Mets’ Jacob deGrom before most Mets fans knew who deGrom was.
It was Harvey whose arrival in 2012 gave fans a glimpse of what the future could hold, though it took the team a few years to get there.
It was Harvey who started the All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013 and fought like hell to finish Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.
We’ll never know if Harvey, who threw 189.1 regular season innings in 2015 before tossing another 26.2 in the postseason that year, developed Thoracic Outlet Syndrome because of the mileage he put on his arm in what was his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
But we do know that Harvey in essence gambled his baseball future while doing everything in his power to help deliver a World Series title to the Mets and their fans.
Were there some off-field issues with Harvey during his time in Queens. Yes. But he is not that guy anymore.
Before Harvey resurfaced with Italy, it was clear that he still badly wanted to pitch. A look at his Instagram shows his workouts and throwing sessions. This is not someone who wants his big league dream to end.
How incredible would it be if Harvey’s dream continued with the Mets, the team he basically gave his arm for?
Perhaps the Mets sign Harvey and he never makes it back to the majors. Or maybe he continues to refine this new version of himself and becomes a solid rotation option — or a relief pitcher, where his stuff could perhaps play up a bit.
Is the 2023 version of Harvey a better depth starter than Jose Butto or Joey Lucchesi? Could he be a bullpen option if starting doesn’t work? The Mets should find out.