‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Mets general manager Sandy Alderson’s decision to leave Matt Harvey in Triple-A Buffalo until the just-right time is a mistake.
Let’s face it. The Mets are plummeting toward .500 faster than a cinderblock in a shallow pond right now. The slump — or rather the expected descent back to earth after a surprisingly good first half — appears to have taken hold and threatens now to knock them out of playoff contention.
Sure, nobody expected them in the postseason anyway. But what an adrenaline shot it would be for this franchise to actually stay in the race until late September. Unfortunately, the lingering problems of the first half that include a shoddy bullpen and lack of offensive power will probably prove the Mets’ ultimate undoing.
What has this to do with the hard-throwing, right-handed Harvey? Well, a lot, actually.
Thanks to Dillon Gee’s blood clot, there’s an opening in the rotation that Harvey could have filled Saturday. Harvey would have had a chance to prove himself worthy of a major league job in exactly the kind of conditions the Mets will expect him to excel in the future.
Instead, Alderson has decided the 23-year-old starter isn’t quite ready for the big leagues. Though both the general manager and his assistant, J.P. Ricciardi, say he’s the real thing, and that he’ll probably be up sooner than later, one can’t help but wonder if they’re keeping him with the Bisons for fear of hurting him mentally if he fails.
We know this from Alderson’s desire to make Harvey’s debut an “auspicious” one.
That would be a mistake.
And it would be a bigger mistake if the executive waited for the season to grow so out of hand that Harvey winning or losing wouldn’t matter anymore.
This, right now, is exactly a great time to see if Harvey has the mental stuff. There is still meaning to this season. Alderson wants auspicious? Auspiciousness, like greatness, is determined by the surrounding circumstances. So, by definition, this current thread of games defines auspicious.
If Harvey is to become a valuable contributor in the future, he needs to prove he can at least compete before the spotlight on the season dims entirely.
He doesn’t have to save the season. Just prove he’s got the mental wherewithal to withstand the big-league heat, even if it means getting beat up his first couple of times out.
Hollywood takes a lot of liberties with real-life situations, but the descending action of one of the great baseball movies of all time, Bull Durham, provides a great lesson for the current environment. Nuke LaLoosh, a pitcher way more, er, shall we say ethereal, than Harvey, has just been called up to the majors, prompting a short lecture from his grizzled veteran catcher Crash Davis.
“They’re going to light you up like a pinball machine out there,” Crash tells him. “But you can’t let it bother you. You have to play this game with a combination of fear and arrogance.”
This is the perfect time to see if he has that second quality. The first one isn’t hard to come by, since most debuting minor-leaguers embrace a certain amount of fear of embarrassment, even the ones that come up in meaningless Septembers.
To put Harvey’s debut off until then would be a major error. Putting him off Saturday in favor of 41-year-old Miguel Batista is a mistake of lesser proportions, but still a mistake.
The kid comes off a no-decision Monday where he didn’t have his best stuff and still took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He did walk four and hit a batter. But he pitched his way out of trouble, too. That’s a good sign.
So start Batista against the Dodgers. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t. But if Harvey isn’t up there soon, when things still matter, Alderson may kick himself down the line.
There’s nothing like throwing a kid into the frying pan to see if he really sizzles.
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