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Palladino: Harvey As Closer? It’s Not An Outrageous Idea

Mets Have A Decision To Make With One-Time Phenom; Move To Bullpen Could Extend His Career

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

It became obvious a long time ago that Happy Harvey Days are a thing of the past.

With his present pretty much a wreck, it is logical to think about what the future might hold for the one-time ace. Some want to trade him. But with his value at such a low point, the Mets’ next-best step might be to put Harvey in the bullpen next year.

In fact, the way he throws over an inning or two might make him ideal as a closer, especially if they decide not to re-up Jeurys Familia after his contract runs out this year.

Of course, the Mets have always looked at Harvey as a starter. But at some point they’ll have to face reality. Injuries ranging from Tommy John surgery to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome to the stress injury to his right scapula that kept him sidelined for 2 1/2 months have turned him into more of a liability than an asset in the rotation. If there’s any doubt about that, they need only look at that unthinkable 12.19 ERA since his activation six starts ago.

Matt Harvey

Mets starter Matt Harvey delivers a second-inning pitch against the Diamondbacks on May 17, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

In fact, he hasn’t pitched like a top starter since 2015. Then again, the Mets’ entire rotation has fallen on hard times. It’s no secret that the Big 5 of spring training that was supposed to take baseball by storm has been so decimated by injuries that next year’s forecast predicts only two of them — Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard — will remain as reliable starters.

Even that may be stretching things. They still don’t know how Syndergaard will respond, considering he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since April when his lat muscle went “Boing!”

Steven Matz was an absolute disaster until elbow surgery ended his season. And Zack Wheeler, after starting off strong, fell off the proverbial cliff before a stress reaction in his right arm in July ended his season.

So Harvey is not alone. The difference is that Harvey is actually still pitching, which puts him a leg up on Matz, Wheeler, and Syndergaard. For Harvey, that only means the Mets’ hierarchy knows he can still make a throwing motion. His final three starts in this, the final year of his contract, will provide the evidence they need to either keep him as a starting option or wish him luck on his next stop.

Or just say goodbye to Familia and turn Harvey into a closer.

The problem there is that Harvey has no bullpen experience. He’s never thrown an inning of relief, let alone picked up a save. So that’s a new skill he’d have to learn.

What works in his favor is his attitude. Struggling or not, he’s a competitor, and that’s half of closing. The other half is throwing hard, and he can still do that. Even his horrible 3 1/3-inning, five-run loss in Chicago last Wednesday showed a rise in velocity from the two-inning, seven-run disaster in Houston two starts prior.

Right now, there is little difference between Harvey and Robert Gsellman, another starter who could be headed to the bullpen next year. Of course, Gsellman never had the stardom Harvey enjoyed before the injuries mounted and the performance plummeted. The Mets can alter his role far more easily than Harvey’s.

Harvey, a hard-headed guy in general, may not even accept such a change.

But it makes sense. Harvey’s durability is questionable. The days of him reliably throwing even five effective innings every five days may be over. A move to the bullpen, throwing three, four, even five outs at a time, could save his body and extend his career.

And there’s no saying that he couldn’t return to starting after a couple of years in the ‘pen. It worked for Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, who went from starting to closing and, in Smoltz’ case, back to starting again.

Harvey can read all about it on their plaques in Cooperstown.

If that wouldn’t convince the right-hander to make the switch, then nothing would.

It’s worth thinking about, though. Happy Harvey Days have probably left Citi Field forever.

But replacing them with Happy Harvey Saves would be just as good.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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