By Ernie Palladino
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The evolution of most major league pitchers include days like Matt Harvey had Sunday.

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But that’s no need to get discouraged.

When Harvey, the Mets’ latest best hope to fill a hole in an injured starting rotation, gave up eight hits and five earned runs in five innings to a weak-hitting San Diego squad, it marked his first real bump after two strong outings against Arizona and San Francisco.

It wasn’t a good one, certainly, as the Padres jumped on him for homers in the first and third innings, during which they built a 5-0 lead against which the Mets had virtually no chance of return.

No doubt, the sour-pusses among the Mets’ hierarchy who would have preferred the promising right-hander toil at Triple-A Buffalo for the next year or two were gloating at that one.

“Ah, he’s not ready. The changeup isn’t developed. He’s raw.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Sure, the fastball wasn’t there in this 7-3 loss, and neither was the still-developing changeup that, let’s face it, Harvey doesn’t have much confidence in yet. But the one thing definitely present was his head, and that was the most important thing.

He didn’t flinch, even as the Padres’ minor-league lineup got to him for seven extra-base hits, including two homers, a triple, and four doubles.

Want proof? Take the second inning. Will Venable started it with a triple after the Padres had gone up 2-0 on Chase Headley’s two-run homer in the first. Harvey could have folded right then and there, but he didn’t. Instead, he got the next three hitters on a foul pop, a soft fly, and a strikeout.

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After the Padres turned it into a rout in the third, Harvey wound up in more trouble in the fourth when Cameron Maybin and John Baker put runners on the corners with a double and single with none out.

A botched squeeze play produced the first out, and then Harvey fanned Alexi Amarista and Everth Cabrera to end the threat. And a two-out double in the fifth was followed by a flyout to center.

Rough day at the office, for sure. But it’s something that Harvey is going to have to endure once in a while, perhaps often these final two months of the season, if he’s to become a quality starter.

Even with the mishap, the numbers look impressive. He has already struck out 23 in 16 1/3 innings, while walking seven. Eleven of those set a record for most strikeouts in a Mets debut July 26 against Arizona.

That, by the way, tied him for the fifth-highest total for any debuting pitcher since 1918.

You’d prefer not to see too many of Sunday’s kind of game from anybody. That goes without saying. But the 1-2 Harvey and his 3.86 ERA showed a stoicism that belied his youth. It means he can take it. He’ll learn from the beating; learn how to work when he doesn’t have his “A” stuff.

With Johan Santana and his sprained right ankle ready to come off the disabled list — Terry Collins said he’ll probably be activated for Saturday’s start against the Braves, with Jeremy Hefner moving to relief — the rotation should strengthen.

Then, all Collins need worry about is the bullpen, whose philanthropy makes them the Bill Gates of Major League Baseball.

For sure, even after Sunday’s pounding, he should have no worries about Harvey.

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Were you discouraged by Harvey’s start? Be heard in the comments below…