If The Knight Never Rises

I read an article the other day making the case that March baseball is the absolute worst. I’d never thought about it too much before but it was actually making a great point. February baseball is exciting because everything is just starting up again, but by the time those first few games of March roll around, you’re already tired of seeing your favorite players leave the game after two innings. It slowly settles in that there are no stakes to the game and you’re just praying to every god above that no one important sustains a crazy injury. 

March baseball is also a great time to send yourself into a panic over players that you think should be performing better after having a 4 month vacation. As a Mets fan, I’m surprisingly blessed this Spring Training. Everyone has been looking fantastic offensively from the Triple A regulars, to the big guns like Cespedes. He’s made hitting home runs look so effortless that I’ve come to expect it every time he’s at the plate. The Captain, David Wright, is forever going to be dealing with what ever his back injury wants to do, but you can’t help but appreciate the positivity he brings to that clubhouse. Lucas Duda has gone back to being the Hulk, launching doubles to centerfield, something I hope can carry into the season itself. And then of course, there was the Dark Knight. Matt Harvey, who has been looking more and more like Harvey Dent than Bruce Wayne in these past two seasons. 

With the exception of the norse god Noah Syndergaard, the Mets pitching staff had quite the round of surgeries last season. At one point it was mentioned that Noah had a bone spur as well, but, I’m assuming it just turned into a bolt of lightening and he launched it at the Empire State building one muggy summer afternoon in August. 

Matt Harvey was once that hero that Mets fans looked to to “save our city.” But to say last season was a fall from grace would be an understatement. Matt went 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA before they were able to diagnose that he needed surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which was causing numbness in his pitching arm. 

It was a genuine relief, only because you’d rather know it was something causing such a poor display rather than just the simple fact that Harvey “lost his stuff.” But despite the injury, I do think the dynamic of the pitching staff may have messed with his head a little. New York isn’t an easy town to be a professional athlete. The media is ruthless. And Harvey rode that wave well when he was the sole savior of the franchise in 2012 and 2013. Prompting covers such as this one which famously cemented his nickname:

But once Syndergaard, Matz, and DeGrom came up and proved to be just as good, if not better at times, I think it upset something in Harvey’s balance on this team. This isn’t to say that there’s any dislike or animosity towards his teammates. I don’t doubt that this rotation does nothing but support each other and offer that type of competitive atmosphere that’s healthy to have on a staff with so many aces. But it doesn’t mean that those little demons still don’t get to Harvey in his head. 

We’ve been waiting patiently to see Harvey “good as new” on his first Spring Training start, which took place this past weekend. He cruised through the first inning. And like a fool I was screaming “He has risen!” as if it was Easter Sunday. Then came the top of the second and it was like a carbon copy of so many games I’d watched last summer. A solid start, followed by and immediate implosion. 

Now, I know it’s only his first start back since July. It’s still Spring Training. But the numbers aren’t great for pitchers returning from this surgery. Most of the time they never return back to what they were before. I mean the surgery itself includes having a rib removed. Some Mets fans would soon call to have more ribs removed before fully admitting that Harvey won’t ever return to what he once was. 

But say he never really does return to that form. The Mets never get the Fab Five they’ve been dreaming of since 2013. It’s going to be okay. For once, the Mets pitching depth is still pretty solid. And after seeing Lugo and Gsellman carry them into the post season last year, having Harvey not at his best won’t be as much of a crushing blow as it may have been two or three years ago. 

The truth is only time will tell. Right now it’s still only early March, there’s a full month of games left to play, and Spring Training is making me twitch.