11:05 am Jul. 27, 2012
Three days apart in 1967, a pair of young pitchers burst onto the scene for the New York Mets. Each one set the franchise record for most strikeouts in a debut, with eight.
One was Tom Seaver, the Hall of Famer who went on to win three Cy Youngs with the New York, and whose dominance over two decades made him an inner-circle member of the Hall of Fame.
The other was Bill Denehy, who went on to finish his career with a 1-10 record and a 4.56 E.R.A., and was best known for getting traded to the Washington Senators for a manager, Gil Hodges.
On Thursday night in Arizona, Matt Harvey obliterated the record held by both men, striking out 11 in the most dominant performance by a debuting pitcher on any team since Stephen Strasburg back in 2010. The Mets added a badly needed victory to their total, which has barely grown since June turned to July. And for a night, at least, fans could dream about Harvey as another Seaver, while ignoring the chances he turns into another Denehy.
The chances are Harvey will be something in between, though a healthy Harvey should be far better than Denehy with the weapons he already has at his disposal. In terms of development, Harvey has easily exceeded the last first-round pick the Mets promoted straight to their starting rotation, Mike Pelfrey, and that isn't a particularly close call, either.
What Harvey had on display Thursday night, in front of his parents, sister and dozens of other well-wishers was a fastball that routinely played in the mid-to-upper 90s. Whether that was adreneline-filled response to his debut or not remains to be seen—he was usually a couple of ticks lower, on average, in Triple-A. But it turned an effective pitch even more lethal.
Still, Harvey's fastball doesn't have much movement on it, and velocity of a straight pitch can only take you so far.
But he also has this: a ridiculous slider that comes in around 89-90 miles per hour, and that he can throw for strikes. It changes a hitter's eye level, and the speed he needs to prepare for. It is the pitch the Mets desperately hoped Mike Pelfrey would develop, but never did. And Harvey has it under his command at the start of his big league career.
Whether Matt Harvey merely survives as a starting pitcher, or becomes something far greater than that, will depend on his curveball and changeup. After all, there are plenty of fastball/slider pitchers in the major leagues; most of them become relievers with such a limited repertoire.
Both pitches were in evidence on Thursday night, and Harvey got strikes with each of them early, establishing them as weapons and forcing Diamondbacks' hitters to guess between four difficult pitches of very different types. The resuts had hitters swinging at pitches they had no chance to hit, even pitches Harvey probably didn't execute as he'd like—a slider that rose around the eyes, a fastball that would have hit another batter. Both induced strikeout swings en route to Harvey's 11 strikeouts.
Even on such a dominant night—one Harvey even added to at the plate, with two hits—Harvey's control was in evidence, with three walks over 5 1/3 innings. He walked nearly four hitters per nine at Triple-A, and that number usually goes up when a pitcher jumps to the major leagues. A less generous umpire could give Harvey problems, since if he consistently falls behind, he'll have to come with that straight fastball, something major league hitters can feast on if they can anticipate it.
But the magic of a debut like this is to give fans something relatively uncommon. The dream of a pitching prospect is to close your eyes and imagine what he will be someday. The adjustments to the major leagues required of almost every pitcher usually means it takes a good bit of imagining.
Thursday night, Matt Harvey allowed Mets fans to dream with their eyes open.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Yankees host the Red Sox for three games this weekend. The Red Sox are in last place, yet still only four games out of the wild card in the American League. So the games are meaningful to them, at least.
Nick Swisher should be back Saturday, and Joba Chamberlain will throw another rehab stint on Sunday.
The Knicks will open against the Nets in Brooklyn, then return home to face the Heat. The Nets get a night off before facing Toronto.
The worst-kept secret in sports was finally acknowledged by the Red Bulls Thursday: Tim Cahill is joining the club.