PORT ST. LUCIE — The Mets don’t need another hero, Mickey Callaway just wants Matt Harvey — and the rest of the starting staff — to be accountable on and off the field. The new Mets manager does not want the one-time ace to keep looking and defending his past.
“He was labeled the Dark Knight. He might never be the Dark Knight again. But the Mets don’t need him to be that,” Callaway said Thursday. “His teammates in there don’t need him to be the Dark Knight and the guy he used to be. We need the best version of who Matt is today and that version is going to be good enough. We’re going to create a culture here that breeds that and lets Matt Harvey just be himself and not think he has to be a superhero.”
After a brutal year and a half struggling to rediscover himself on the mound after 2016 Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and floundering off the field with an embarrassing suspension, Harvey needed a fresh start, unburdened by the expectations of his past successes and mistakes.
So far, he seems to be embracing that second chance.
“I’m not looking to be what I was before because nobody knows if I can be better or not,” Harvey said Thursday, talking to reporters for the first time since reporting to camp. “I’m really looking forward to staying healthy and doing everything I can to do that and really push to be better each day and each start and kind of see where it goes from them.”
He declined to talk about last season’s team suspension, from when he failed to show up at the park on game day, and tried to turn the page.
“It’s a new year. People make mistakes,” Harvey said. “I am looking forward to a new season, I am not going to answer any questions about last year or years in the past.”
Trying to come back from his second major surgery since 2013 Tommy John, has fallen from the Dark Knight of Gotham who beat out Clayton Kershaw to start the All-Star Game to one with a 3.51 career ERA and stats comparable to Fred Newman and Shane Reynolds.
A free agent after this season, Harvey’s career depends on him finding his way this season.
Callaway and Dave Eiland feel strongly that Harvey can be an important contributor to this Mets rotation in 2018. After shopping Harvey around to other teams this winter, the Mets are now banking on him. The Mets continue monitoring the free agent market around starters, a front office source confirmed, but are willing to see what Callaway and Eiland can do with Harvey.
“We really liked where his stuff was coming out at the end of the season. We want the challenge of helping this guy out. He deserves it. When he’s good, the upside is very, very high,” Callaway said. “We just knew that if we let this guy go, it’s going to be hard to find another guy with the upside this kid has. We love the stuff and our phone calls with Matt at the time were very positive. It seemed like he was in a good place and that kind of led to that recommendation.”
That gave Harvey a much-needed boost of confidence. He spent a month in Los Angeles this winter at his agent’s training facility rebuilding the weakness in his right shoulder that resulted from the TOS surgery.
“I definitely had a lot of benefits from having a normal offseason,” Harvey said. “Strength training and workouts and really didn’t have to focus so much on rehab as much as really building my body back up and getting strength with the legs and core and I think there’s so many different issues that led from that surgery that I wasn’t able to do a normal offseason and normal workouts.”
Now, he is working with Eiland to correct bad habits he picked up pitching with injuries — like trying to make up for shoulder weakness last year by overusing his legs — and ready to pitch unburdened by the expectations of the past.
“I think going into this year I strive to be better than I was before. And there’s no reason why I can’t. I’m still 28-29 years old and there’s a lot left in the tank,” Harvey said. “I’m ready to go. I’m excited. The ball’s coming out better than it has in a long time. I’m just excited, like I said, finally having a normal offseason and getting my strength back. There’s no reason I can’t be better than I was before.”
The Dark Knight may never return, but the Mets don’t need that. They need a healthy Matt Harvey making the most of yet another second chance.