Flashes of Harvey Day

Matt Harvey hadn’t been perfect, he knew.  But he still had the stuff to get one more out.

It was A.J. Pierzinski he had to get.  A.J. Freakin’ Pierzinski, who’s been in the league almost twenty years and has been insufferable every one of them.  Harvey would get him, I was sure.

Then, in the few seconds it took me to remember that Harvey, for the moment, was far removed from his dominant 2013 form, Pierzinski dumped a single into center.  And things continued to break wrong for Matt Harvey.

Then Cespedes gunned down Nick Markakis (#VoteMarkakis) at the plate.  And for the first time this season, for Matt Harvey, something fell right.

***

It’s hard to know how to feel about Harvey’s satisfactory, yet obviously laborious, outing.  He didn’t have his best stuff; that much was clear.  His velocity was slightly improved, sitting near 94 and touching 96, but still not where it was a year ago.  The command was off as well — as Keith couldn’t help but note roughly every pitch, too many pitches were up.

But it was an improvement, and while we didn’t expect to be looking for nothing more than an improvement from Matt Harvey four starts into the year, I’ll certainly take it.

For brief stretches, in the third and fourth inning, it looked like maybe, just maybe, Harvey had found himself.  He looked more confident on the mound, his posture relaxed, naturally intimidating from the windup.  His fastball briefly took on the effortless look it had about it back in early 2013, and even last year.  His slider started snapping in.  He was painting the black.

It didn’t last: Harvey ran out of gas in the fifth, and managed to get through his five with only the two runs allowed.  But that doesn’t mean the middle innings didn’t happen.

“I thought that was a much better inning for him,” Keith said after the fourth.  It was; he’d given up a few baserunners, but he’d also looked like the Harvey of old.  The Harvey of old gave up baserunners now and then too — the difference was, we were comfortable in our convictions that he wouldn’t let them score.

The Harvey of old wasn’t fully back — in the lack of command and the sinking velocity as the game wore on, that much was obvious.  But I saw flashes of him — flashes clear enough to tell me that old Harvey, good Harvey, dominant Harvey, may have finished his absence, and may now be clawing his way back.

***

It was a big question, as the offseason went on, whether Curtis Granderson could repeat his stellar 2015 season at age 35.

I, for one, was sure he could: 35, after all, isn’t so much older than 34, and as we learned from Moneyball, the ability to walk is one of the few baseball skills that doesn’t disappear with age.  Grandy’s OBP was .364 last year.  It was .299 coming into today’s game.  After today, it’s .319.

What’s more, he’s no stranger to bad Aprils.  Last year, his April OBP was .333.  But we know what we see, and Granderson, with his two home runs today, is swinging as well as he’s ever been, and hasn’t lost one ounce of the plate discipline that led to his 91 walks last year.

Behind Granderson, Wright, Cespedes, and Asdrubal Cabrera, we’ve got a lineup full of neophytes, or, rather, players who seem like neophytes because of how long Grandy and the captain have been around.  The young guys will hit.  D’Arnaud is off to a slow start: that will change.  Duda’s walks and home runs will come, and Walker might just keep doing what he’s doing.  Conforto, we know, will become a star just as soon as his line drives stop finding fielders’ gloves and start finding the outfield grass.

For the longest time, our lineup was downright laughable.  We shook off all concerns.  “We’re going to build around pitching,” we insisted, not admitting to ourselves the obvious, that even teams with the pitching that we’ve got now need some kind of lineup to remain functional.

As we all remember, we had the pitching but not the lineup for the first half of 2015, and we learned the truth the hard way; being great on one side of the ball isn’t enough to cancel out being incompetent on the other.  The day Eric Campbell and John Mayberry Jr. filled out the middle of our order, we realized the inevitable: we needed offense.

We had ten hits today.  Wednesday, we had 14.  Tuesday, 12.  Monday, ten more.  Sunday, nine.  Since being 2-5, we’re 6-2, and in the process of executing the lightning-quick turnaround, our offense started hitting.

We’ve got the offense we always knew we needed, and we’ve got the pitching.  Even today, when our pitching was absolutely ordinary, our offense carried us to victory.

Back in 2013, when we had grand plans to build a pitching staff so good that our offense didn’t matter, who expected that we’d be saying that?

***

It’s even more satisfying, in a way, because we pulled out the win despite all that went wrong.

Conforto should have had five hits; he had one.  On any other day, our run totals would have climbed.

Pierzinski’s pop-up to center in the second should never have fallen in.  Today, it did.  On any other day, that’s one hit fewer for the opposition, and one more out for our pitching.  The same goes for the double play ball bobbled by the so-far absolutely surehanded Walker: tomorrow, that’s an out.

We had some things fall our way as well: Cespedes’ throw to nail Markakis (#VoteMarkakis) was a notable example, as were a few hard-hit balls that our fielders handled.  But the point is: we won because, and only because, we played better.  There were no two ways about it; it was a good, old-fashioned baseball win.

You know what I call good, old-fashioned baseball?  We’ve got Matz tomorrow, and then deGrom, and then Thor.

Those three pitchers’ E.R.A. in their last starts?  0.90, if my math is right.  And that’s a whole lot of fire to throw at the Braves, whose offense doesn’t look built to stand up to Jamie Moyer, let alone our three flamethrowers.

We got through Harvey — although none of us ever thought we’d say this, he was the question mark of the group — and now, our rotation goes to work, just like we dreamed it would over the offseason, when we imagined our pitching staff working out perfectly.  Matz, deGrom, Thor.  Three guys with shutout stuff.  Three guys taking on the Braves.

For fear of superstitious recourse, we don’t like to say this.  But the Braves have got no chance.

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