The Mets opened up a four-game series in Atlanta facing Julio Teheran for the fourth time this season. Teheran was fantastic against the Mets on Opening Day, mediocre against them later in April, and got shellacked on May 1. Teheran has been particularly bad in the Braves’ new bandbox of a ballpark, with an ERA over eight at home. On the mound for the Mets was Matt Harvey, as he continues to struggle to work his way back from TOS.
Entering this series, the Mets find themselves seven games under .500, 12 games back of the Nationals in the division and trailing both the rebuilding Braves and the Marlins in the National League East standings. With reinforcements on the way (more on that later), this four-game set against a bad team is a vital chance for the Mets to get back on track.
Things were quiet for the first three half innings, with Dansby Swanson robbing Michael Conforto of a single and Harvey working around a two-out single in the first. Harvey ran into trouble in the bottom of the second though, walking Matt Adams and Dansby Swanson and allowing a single to Danny Santana to load the bases. He managed to work his way out of trouble thanks to a solid play from Wilmer Flores on a throw home and a hard hit ball from Ender Inciarte that flew right to Curtis Granderson, but Harvey was already at 45 pitches at the end of the second inning.
The Met offense seemed to appreciate Harvey’s effort, as it managed to break through against Teheran in the top of the third. Granderson led off the inning with a long home run to center field, aided by the favorable wind currents in SunTrust Park. Harvey singled two batters later for his second hit of the season, but was caught between second and first when Swanson robbed Conforto again, this time with a diving catch of a soft line drive. Oddly, Swanson threw the ball away when attempting to double Harvey off first, but Harvey didn’t react, giving Braves first baseman Matt Adams plenty of time to retrieve the ball and flip to the pitcher covering to end the inning.
Harvey made the lead stand up, working around singles in the bottom of the third and fourth and recording his only 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. Teheran did the same, holding the Mets lead to one run with some help from a fantastic play by Inciarte, who robbed Travis d’Arnaud on a screaming line drive over his head. (As an aside, d’Arnaud has no luck against the Braves — he’s gone from being robbed consistently by Andrelton Simmons to being robbed by Inciarte.) Harvey exited after five, throwing 104 pitches, striking out three, walking two, and allowing four hits. It was his first scoreless outing of the season. Nowhere close to vintage Harvey, but certainly another tiny step in the right direction.
Of course, little has gone right for the Mets this season, and that pattern continued tonight. Paul Sewald took over in the sixth and ran into trouble, giving up a double to Matt Kemp to lead off the inning. After getting the next two outs, Sewald walked Danny Santana to bring up Dansby Swanson, who promptly ripped a double down the left field line. Very quickly, the 1-0 Met lead turned into a 2-1 lead for the Braves.
d’Arnaud tied the game up in the top of the seventh with a solo homer, while Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas kept things tied going to the bottom of the ninth, but that only delayed the inevitable. Swanson hit a ground ball up the middle that he turned into a hustle double as Granderson lackadaisically played the ball in. On the next pitch, Rio Ruiz hit a slow ground ball through the left side of the infield. Had Michael Conforto not double clutched, the play at the plate might have been close as he unleashed a perfect strike. That extra half second cost him and the Mets though, as Swanson slid in and the Braves walked off with a 3-2 win.
The loss drops the Mets back to 8 games under .500. They’ll look to improve that mark with Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz on the mound in Saturday’s doubleheader.
Thoughts from the Game
Watching Harvey remains a frustrating and depressing exercise, particularly when Gary and Ron take the time to remind us how recently he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. I think there’s reason for optimism, as Harvey’s velocity remains consistently strong and his breaking stuff appears a lot stronger. The problem remains that Harvey seems to have no idea where his pitches are going most of the time, leading to his issues with walks, elevated pitch counts, and home runs. That’s not particularly surprising given the offseason medical issues, but it’s still disappointing. All one can do is hope that Harvey’s pinpoint control gradually returns as he puts more distance between himself and surgery.
Regarding Harvey’s tenure in the Met rotation, I think the team is making the right call keeping him there, assuming that’s their plan if they eventually shift back to a five-man rotation. By any objective measure, the current Met team is not good and the 2017 season will almost certainly not end in a playoff berth. Robert Gsellman has solid stuff and a good prospect pedigree, but Harvey has demonstrated the ability to be an elite pitchers. One has to think that more reps are what he needs in order to recapture his pre-surgery control, and he’ll get more reps as a starter. If that hurts the team more than pushing him to the bullpen and leaving Gsellman in the rotation in a lost season, so be it.
Other Met News
The Mets announced that Yoenis Cespedes would return as the 26th man for saturday’s doubleheader against the Braves. Since suffering a setback with his quad while rehabbing his hamstring injury, Cespedes has done some running indoors and played in one rehab game, during which he went hitless in four at bats. He’s slated to play one game of the doubleheader before settling back into a regular spot in the Met outfield going forward. While offense has not been a real problem for the Mets so far this season, this is excellent news, so long as Michael Conforto remains a fixture in the lineup.
With Cespedes back and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo rejoining the rotation, the Mets are getting closer to full strength (Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia are obviously still missing). If there’s any hope left for the 2017 season, the Mets will need these reinforcements to provide a big boost as the team looks to fight its way back into the Wild Card race.
Photo credit: Jason Getz – USA Today Sports