New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey is imitating the dominance of Randy Johnson this season, placing Major League Baseball’s hardest-throwing starter in position to open the All-Star Game in his home ballpark.
Harvey, a 24-year-old right-hander, would become the Mets’ first All-Star starting pitcher in a quarter century. He’s had a half-season that included an MLB-leading three games in which he struck out at least 10 batters without issuing a walk, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Sports, which terms such an outing a “Randy.” Bloomberg Sports provides statistical analysis of baseball and other leagues.
Johnson, the 10-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award-winning left-hander who retired in 2009, has the most 10-plus strikeout/zero walk performances in major league history, with 36.
“I don’t think anybody reminds me of Randy Johnson, but Matt Harvey is certainly a cross between Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver, maybe,” said John Smoltz, a former major leaguer whose 10 Randys rank eighth on the career list.
Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards as his league’s best pitcher, and Seaver, a Hall of Fame member who won three Cy Youngs with the Mets, both are right-handed like Harvey. Clemens’s 21 career Randys rank third, and Seaver’s 11 ties him for sixth.
Harvey didn’t lose a decision during his first 13 starts this season, posting a 5-0 record. A loss on June 13 ended that streak and started a run in which Harvey has gone 2-2 with two no-decisions. He has allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last two starts, while contending with a small blister on his right index finger that he said affected the feel of his pitches.
The blister might have hurt Harvey’s slider, which has been decreasingly successful in each month this season. In April, opponents batted .037 against the pitch, Harvey’s second-most-used this season. The average rose to .167 in May, .300 in June and .556 this month, according to Bloomberg Sports.
Harvey throws his fastball 56 percent of the time, followed by the slider (19 percent), the curveball (13 percent) and the changeup (11 percent). His fastball is the speediest among major league starters at 95.6 miles per hour (153.8 kilometers per hour), besting the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (95.3 mph).
“He’s got an incredible pitch repertoire,” Smoltz said on a conference call with reporters. “As far as the strikeouts to no walks, it’s nice but I don’t think it’s a precursor to anything other than the guy’s got great control. There’s time you’ve got to walk guys.”
Harvey’s success coincides with the dominance of many major league pitchers this season. There were 32 Randys through games of July 10, placing 2013 in line to break last year’s record of 43. Johnson and Curt Schilling, whose 27 career Randys rank No. 2, share the single-season high with six.
Mets manager Terry Collins announced two days ago that Harvey would be scratched from his scheduled start tomorrow primarily because he’s thrown 130 innings so far this season, and to allow the blister to heal. Harvey thus would be fully rested if National League manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants opts to start him in the July 16 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Mets’ home field. The starting pitchers will be announced the day before the game.
“We’ve got to skip him sooner or later,” Collins told reporters. “This is nothing new. If he pitches in the All-Star Game, he’ll be ready for it. But just for us as an organization, we need to back him off, and we thought now would be a good time.”
Harvey said he understood that the Mets were trying to limit his pitches a season after he threw 169 1/3 innings combined between the major and minor leagues.
“Agreeing with it or not, that’s what it is and something I’m going to have to deal with,” Harvey said in a televised interview with SNY.
Dwight Gooden was the most recent Mets pitcher to start an All-Star Game, in 1988 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. He also was given the honor two years earlier at the Astrodome in Houston, while Seaver started in 1970, also at Riverfront.
The Mets are 40-48 this season after winning four straight games and are 11 games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.
Other starting pitchers selected for the NL All-Star team were Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jeff Locke of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, Travis Wood of the Chicago Cubs and Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals.
Wainwright, who is tied with Zimmerman for the NL lead in wins with 12, is one of four major leaguers who have two Randys this season. Kershaw, whose 1.89 earned run average leads the majors, has one, as do Lee and Bumgarner.
Collins’s decision to rest Harvey now, freeing him for a possible All-Star start, is a “brilliant move,” said Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star.
“The Mets have had a nice rebound and they’re playing good, but he deserves to start the All-Star Game, the city deserves to see him start the All-Star Game,” Smoltz said. “And I guarantee you Bruce Bochy’s not disappointed to see him start the All-Star Game if he does, because he helps the National League get a leg up.”