If you assumed we wouldn't see New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey at all in 2014 after his Tommy John surgery last October, you might just be wrong.
Harvey, he of the breakthrough season in 2013, thinks he can pitch by August, less than a year after having elbow surgery. Typical Tommy John recovery time is 12 months, with some pitchers taking even longer to truly get their groove back. Harvey, relentless competitor that he is, wants to accelerate that timetable. He had surgery Oct. 22.
Harvey told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:
"Of course, I won't do it unless I'm cleared to do it," he said, "but I want to pitch before the year ends. I want to make five, six, seven starts this year. I asked [the training staff], 'If I want to come back in August, when do I need to start throwing off a mound?' They said June 10. So that's what we have penciled in right now. That's the plan.
"I feel great. I don't feel any soreness now. The ball is coming out of my hand great."
You'll recall that Verducci profiled Harvey at length last spring when Harvey was wowing the league on his way to a 9-5, 2.27 ERA season in which he started the All-Star Game, but also didn't pitch after August because of elbow issues. In that story, Harvey was cast as a pitcher with a deep drive to prove himself after teams passed him over and/or wouldn't pay him what he thought he was worth.
[Photos: 2014 epidemic of Tommy John surgeries]
His yearning to pitch in 2014 comes from that same place. Only Harvey wants to prove something to himself this time. He told Verducci:
"I just want the peace of mind," he said. "I want to go back out there and know I still have the stuff to strike out major league hitters. And I want to know that when I shut it down at the end of the year, I'm just like everybody else shutting it down. I don't want to go through all this work and wonder all winter where I am. I want to be just like everybody else when this season ends and the next one starts."
That is both admirable and understandable, but it's hard to see the Mets brass agreeing. With the way pitchers are delicately handled these days, and with the flurry of Tommy John surgeries that the league has seen since Harvey's, this whole interview may strike fear into the Mets organization.
The last thing they want to do is take a risk with a pitcher like Harvey, but they may also not want to cross their ace either. They've already clashed about where he'd rehab. Then the Mets made Harvey delete a Tweet where he gave Tommy John surgery the finger, which escalated a harmless situation into a mini controversy in which Harvey eventually deleted his entire Twitter account. If the headstrong Harvey believes he can pitch but the Mets want to be more cautious with him, things could get heated this summer.
As Verducci points out, there is some precedent for ahead-of-schedule Tommy John return. Edinson Volquez returned in 11 months because his team was in the middle of a playoff race.
But the Mets aren't likely to be playoff contenders come August. Furthermore, the Mets don't want Edinson Volquez, serviceable MLB pitcher. They want Matt Harvey, potential superstar. The stakes are high.
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