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Time for Matt Harvey to either be a great pitcher again or not

·MLB columnist
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LOS ANGELES – There is nothing wrong with Matt Harvey that a few angry fastballs, six or seven commotion-free innings, a month of reasonable starts couldn’t fix.

Also, maybe, a little peace and quiet.

Mostly, though, the reasonable starts.

He drove north Thursday afternoon from Newport Beach. There, he’d tuned up his arm and psyche for five days at the Boras Sports Training Institute and finishing school. If the events of recent weeks had shaken him – the demotion from the starting rotation of the New York Mets, the 7 ERA, the minor-league assignment gone scorned, the trade to the Cincinnati Reds – by Thursday Harvey seemed clear-eyed and committed to whatever tomorrow might bring.

Tomorrow, incidentally, he’d be the starting pitcher at Dodger Stadium. Life, comin’ in hot.

New York, of course, can be a blessing and a curse, depending on which end of the cattle prod you’re standing. Harvey had spent a good amount of time as prodder and prod-ee, six years that ended at the bottom of the National League Central in a gray Reds road uniform and mixed into one of baseball’s worst rotations. Some, perhaps, would argue he’d earned it. Others would mourn the best days of Gotham’s Dark Knight, be he dead or hibernating.

Harvey himself would say he’d like to get on with it, with whatever, after one final look back.

“There’s a lot of good,” he said. “Good memories. There’s a lot of bad memories. After today I’d like to not talk about my past experiences with the Mets. So, I’d like to move forward with my new organization and do everything I can to help them. Overall, there was a lot of good times. I have a lot of good friends on that team and will for a long time. I obviously wasn’t able to perform the way I wanted to and the way I was expecting to. So, you know, fresh start, I guess you could say, is a nice thing. I’m looking forward to my opportunity.”

What got him here, all that went on in New York, the good, the bad, the drama (self-inflicted and not), the champagne celebrations, the anesthesia, the show shuffle away, that would wait. Until Scott Boras thought it over.

“With that,” Boras said, “came a very noticeable asterisk about different treatment of players by different organizations, and by different doctors, and how that’s handled.”

Matt Harvey will make his debut for the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. (Getty Images)
Matt Harvey will make his debut for the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. (Getty Images)

He meant two young, elite right-handers, both stricken by torn elbow ligaments, both resorting to surgery and recovery. One, Harvey, returned and, after much debate over innings and stress and accountability, charged into one October, pitching 26 2/3 innings. He is, since, 9-19 with a 5.93 ERA and one thoracic outlet surgery. The other, Stephen Strasburg, famously opted out (under doctor’s orders) one October and since is 82-44 with a 3.14 ERA. Both are Boras clients.

“What I’m saying,” Boras said, “is it brought attention to Matt. There was room for opinion and discussion.”

He was heroic then, potentially sacrificing his body and future for what became a magical run to the World Series. Two-and-a-half mostly crummy years later, he sat on someone else’s bench in someone else’s uniform, barreling toward free agency as someone else’s problem. Or, there’s the possibility that October had nothing whatsoever to do with going to live on other people’s bat barrels, or the thoracic issues, and that it’s time to grow up and either be a great pitcher again or not.

“I had a lot of people say that that was the best thing,” Harvey said of leaving New York. “But I think pitching is what’s important. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of success in New York. And I’ve had a lot of not so much success. Regardless of where you are you’re still pitching and performing and it’s still major league baseball. You still have to get hitters out. Half the games are on the road anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if you’re in New York or here in L.A. or wherever you are. You have a job to do and that’s to go out and get people out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that with the Mets, but excited with my opportunity here and to let that happen with the Reds.”

So, there’d be no contrite Harvey for those left angry. There’d be no grenade-throwing Harvey for those left heartbroken. There’d only be this one 29-year-old man standing between his past and his future, pitching away from one and toward the other. It’s simple as that. It has to be.

“There’s been a lot of rough times in the last couple weeks,” he said. “Actually, the last couple years, with the injuries, not having success, really working through a lot of adversity in that sense. It’s created a lot of mental toughness. It’s easy to just give up and not go out there and work at your craft. Obviously at times there were some pretty negative thoughts going through my head about where my career was. I think fighting through that and throwing the ball the way I have been in bullpens and in between outings, it’s in there. It just needs to come out. Relax and let it happen.”

One angry fastball. One game. Then another. Go from there.

And a little peace and quiet.

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