Heading into the season, more uncertainty swirled around Matt Harvey than any other Mets pitcher. The rarity of Harvey’s recent surgery, combined with his uneven Spring Training results, made the Mets unsure how he might fare once the lights flicked on at Citi Field.
They apparently needn’t have worried. Throwing more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, Harvey delivered 6 2/3 strong innings on Thursday, departing to a standing ovation before the Mets scored a 6-2 win over the Braves.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve gone into the seventh inning,” Harvey said. “I think the struggles in Spring Training definitely were there, obviously, in the back of my mind. The biggest thing for me was … really trying to pound the zone and go as deep as I can into the game.”
Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores each backed Harvey with two-run hits — d’Arnaud’s a double, Flores’ a homer — against Braves starter Jaime Garcia, who is nearly three years removed from his own surgery to repair Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. That is the condition that affected Harvey last summer, causing numbness in his pitching hand and undermining his results.
Harvey experienced no such issues on Thursday, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced and reaching 95 mph on the radar gun. Only Matt Kemp had an answer for Harvey, hitting two solo homers to account for two of the Braves’ three hits off him.
“It’s good to see Matt swing the bat like he is,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Hopefully, we can join him here shortly.”
The Mets were clinging to a one-run lead when Flores, who ranked third in the Majors in OPS against left-handed pitchers last season, curled his two-run homer around the left-field foul pole to triple the Mets’ margin in the fifth. Eleven of Flores’ 16 homers last season came against left-handed pitchers, which is why the Mets batted him cleanup against Garcia.
“It’s not easy,” Flores said of adapting to a platoon role. “But it’s your role. It’s what you have to do. It’s like starting and relieving. You’ve got to make the adjustment. You’ve got to get used to it. And that’s what I’m doing.”
After Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera notched singles during a two-run seventh inning against Atlanta right-hander Chaz Roe, the Braves loaded the bases with three singles in the eighth inning. But Fernando Salas killed the threat by recording a four-pitch strikeout of Dansby Swanson.
“We battled way back and were just a hit away from getting back in that game, but it didn’t happen,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who saw Kemp drive in four of the five runs his team scored in this series.
Kemp’s 11th career two-homer game (and fourth since the start of 2016) gave him six extra-base hits through this season’s first 13 at-bats. Per Statcast™, his second homer off Harvey, a solo shot to left field in the seventh inning, had an exit velocity of 111.9 mph. The top exit velo of his 35 home runs last year was 110.4 mph.
“I hit it hard,” Kemp said. “I don’t care how far it goes. I just want it to scrape over the fence. It doesn’t matter how far it goes.”
The Braves will experience a quick turnaround, as they are scheduled to play the Pirates at PNC Park on Friday at 12:05 p.m. CT. Mike Foltynewicz will start instead of R.A. Dickey, whose season debut was pushed back one day because of the cold and wet conditions predicted in Pittsburgh on Friday.