12:12 pm Jul. 17, 2012
The so-called audition for Matt Harvey took place Monday night in Buffalo, and didn't tell us very much we didn't already know.
That Matt Harvey is a top-shelf prospect isn't in doubt, and he showed why that is despite some rustiness after pitching just once since July 4. He didn't allow a hit in his first five innings on the mound, routinely reached 95 miles per hour with that big fastball of his, and pitched into the seventh inning.
Ultimately, however, he walked four and hit a batter in 6 2/3 innings, and threw only 58 strikes in his 100 pitches.
Not that one game would have changed anything, but that means Matt Harvey is exactly what he seemed prior to Monday night: a strong prospect who still struggles with command and would be best served by more time in Triple-A. Also, a far stronger choice than Miguel Batista to fill the next open spot in the Mets' rotation, Saturday against the Dodgers at Citi Field.
Harvey has now pitched 105 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. He's notched a strikeout per inning, which is good. But he also has walked nearly four per nine innings, which would be too high at the major league level, let alone at Triple-A. The result is likely to be plenty of short outings and taxing the bullpen.
But let's not lose sight of what he'd need to exceed to be better than Batista. The 41-year-old is walking nearly as many batters (5.9 per 9) as he is striking out (6.5 per nine). Nor is this lack of command a fluke; he walked more batters than he struck out in 2011. These are the kinds of ratios that usually get pitchers booted from the major leagues.
So it is up to the Mets now to figure out whether Harvey will learn enough the next 45 days at Triple-A (remember, minor league seasons end at the start of September) to justify keeping him in the minor leagues instead of providing the Mets with their best chance of winning every fifth day. If they stop developing him and rush him up, will they be costing themselves games in 2013 or 2014?
The Mets have started the second half of the season in poor fashion, making it that much more doubtful that general manager Sandy Alderson will decide to mortgage the future for a run at the 2012 playoffs. (They lost three to Atlanta to fall 3.5 out of the wild card race and 6.5 behind the Nationals for first place in the National League East.)
Fortunately, the Mets' front office seems to have a pretty good grasp on how likely they are to contend this year, and on how much Matt Harvey needs more Triple-A time. It'll just be a question of balancing the two imperatives. Monday night in Buffalo didn't change that.