Mets Game 15: Win Over Nationals
Mets 7 Nationals 1
Matt Harvey wins round one.
Mets Game Notes
It was supposed to be a thrilling pitchers’ duel. Matt Harvey lived up to the hype, bringing his “A game.” Unfortunately, Stephen Strasburg did not. Still, it was entertaining to watch Harvey mow down the Nats.
Strasburg was really disappointing; his command was poor and his velocity was underwhelming. That’s not entirely fair; Strasburg was regularly hitting 96 MPH, but anything less than 99-100 from him is below expectations. His yellow hammer was often knee-buckling, but he struggled to get it in the strike zone. His fastball was fairly straight, and all too often catching far too much of the plate. Even in the upper 90s, and at the knees, a fastball that doesn’t move and is over the middle of the plate is going to get hit.
Conversely, Harvey was pounding his fastball in all four quadrants, as he’s been doing in all of his starts. Just as important and impressive, he was consistently getting “strike one,” which put him at a significant advantage. It took the patient Nats two turns through the order before they realized, “damn, we’re falling behind 0-1 with this approach — and he’s not giving us anything to hit once he’s ahead!” Harvey threw a first-pitch strike to 14 of the first 21 batters he faced, and even when he didn’t, he seemed to always find a way to get ahead. He was relentless in his goal of staying ahead of hitters, and turned ferocious when he got to strike two. It felt as though the Nats hitters had no chance at all once they got to two strikes — because Harvey buried them. Nearly every time he had two strikes on a hitter, Harvey made an excellent pitch in the perfect spot — be it a tight slider off the outside corner or a high fastball. Harvey was carving up the plate, carving up the hitters.
Part of Harvey success was home plate umpire Brian Knight’s penchant for calling the high strike. I don’t want to go so far as saying Knight’s strike zone was generous, but he was definitely calling pitches in the upper edge of the zone that aren’t always called by other umpires. Because Knight was consistently calling the high strike, Nats hitters had to protect the top of the zone with two strikes, and Harvey worked that to his advantage, “climbing the ladder” and getting swinging strike threes on pitches above and out of the strike zone. This was different from the days of John Maine getting Ks on high strikes; with Maine, that was the only spot he could hit consistently with his crappy mechanics. With Harvey, it was intentional, and part of a fluid plan that reacted to what the umpire gave him.
In contrast, Strasburg seemed to be intentionally trying to pound the bottom of the zone, possibly with sinkers. The problem, however, was that he couldn’t throw strikes at the knees and the edges of the plate — only at the knees and in the middle. But more flawed with this strategy was that by aiming low, he was throwing directly into the strength of most of the Mets hitters. Marlon Byrd, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Jordany Valdespin, and John Buck are all low-ball hitters with loopy swings — the exact type of hitters that Strasburg should be able to eat up with high heat. So why attack the lower part of the zone? You’ve got me. I get the idea that Strasburg is trying to be more efficient with his pitches by pitching to contact and getting ground balls. And I also get the idea of a pitcher pitching to his strength, rather than to an opponent’s weakness. However, I would think that a guy who can hit triple digits has strength with high fastballs. I don’t understand the strategy of pitching to an area that is less than your strength and also your opponent’s strength. Seems someone is over-thinking this.
Next time we see this matchup, I hope Strasburg is up to the task. It was obviously an off-night for Strasburg, who can be electrifying, but right now — even if Strasburg was having a good night and blowing hitters away — there is enough support for the argument that Harvey is the more polished and complete of the two pitchers. I’d like to see them be “on” during the same night and see what happens; this was like watching a Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield fight — what an amazing bout it could be, if only Tyson would fight like Tyson.
Despite a seven-run outburst, the offensive story was an afterthought compared to Harvey — especially after Harvey worked out of an impossible no-out, bases-loaded jam that Daniel Murphy put him into in the seventh. Harvey picked up his brother and slammed the door, which ripped the heart out of the Nats; if they weren’t scoring then, they weren’t scoring, and they knew it. The homerun barrage by bash brothers Davis and Duda were welcome, but anticlimactic.
Speaking of … Bobby Ojeda talked about Ike Davis being able to hit homeruns despite being out on his front foot and looking awkward, explaining it was because Davis “is so strong.” No. It’s because that’s PRECISELY how homeruns are often hit; check any old-time game footage of legitimate homerun king Hank Aaron — he routinely hit homeruns while out on his front foot. The concept of shifting all the weight forward and hitting off the front foot, in fact, is the fundamental philosophy set forth by the late Charley Lau (and advanced by Walt Hriniak and others). The two longballs mashed by Davis were nice to see, but I don’t necessarily see them as evidence of his breaking out of his slump. Rather, I see them as the expected result of Ike’s approach — he is swinging for a homerun just about every time he brings his bat forward, and eventually, odds are that he will run into a few moon shots. The first homer he hit off Strasburg was a knee-high fastball over the middle of the plate; he damn well better mash that pitch, considering Ike is a low-ball hitter. On the second homer, hit off Drew Storen, Davis looked like he was slightly fooled — Davis was far ahead of the pitch and he jerked it into the upper deck. That’s not “strength” but the result of all of his weight driving forward, with the momentum of the shift powering the ball at contact, which occurred a few feet in front of home plate. It was a 90-MPH fastball tailing over the outside part of the plate; had it been even two inches closer to the middle of the plate, Davis would have jerked it foul into the stands — or possibly missed it completely. It wasn’t strength, or a better approach — it was luck. Ike Davis has developed into a mistake hitter: he can occasionally hit mistakes over the fence, and he will occasionally hit a ball over the fence by mistake.
Speaking of hitting mistakes, Lucas Duda has proven that he has that skill — now if he can only embrace it, and start looking for more of them. Duda’s duo blasts came on pitches over the heart of the plate, between the knees and waist. Keith Hernandez noted that the location is Duda’s “wheelhouse” — heck yeah, as it is for just about every MLB hitter. The difference is, not every MLB hitter can turn around a fastball over the middle of the plate and deposit it 420 feet away — but Duda can. I’m starting to believe that Duda could develop into a hitter similar to Adam Dunn — a guy who takes walks, clogs the bases, is a defensive liability, but can mash enough mistakes to make up for the negatives. The question, of course, is whether Duda believes it too — it’s all about what’s going on upstairs with “the dude.”
Storen, by the way, is not the same pitcher he was prior to the surgery he had this time last year to remove a bone chip from his elbow. I know he threw very effectively after returning late last year, but his velocity is not in the 95-96, occasionally touching 97 that it was when he was saving 40+ games. Like Strasburg, his location was poor, as his fastball was hanging in the middle of the plate. There’s been talk of his confidence shaken since his postseason meltdown last October, and I would agree that he doesn’t have that same “killer” look he had before; he has that Brad Lidge look to him. Further, his mechanics have always been, and continue to be, AWFUL; the ball is far, far behind where it needs to be at foot strike. All this adds up to a pitcher who will quickly descend; it won’t surprise me to see him either on the DL or in the minors by the All-Star break. It’s a shame, since he looked so promising just a year ago, and is only 25 years old — but I’m betting that he’s peaked.
Every once in a while Keith Hernandez says something that makes me shake his head. For example, in the first frame, he said that Bryce Harper has “kind of a long swing, an unusual swing.” Huh? Sorry, Keith, but I’m gonna have to go ahead and uh, disagree. Harper has a very efficient swing, and if it’s unusual, it’s because it’s damn near perfect and having a near-perfect swing is unusual. But then, this is the same Keith who loves Daniel Murphy’s swing, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I still love listening to Hernandez, but sometimes I want to stuff a towel in his mouth.
One thing about Harvey that has me mildly concerned: after release, he cuts off the momentum of his upper body and stays a little more straight-up than I’d like, which in turn puts most of the stress of deceleration on his upper body and arm. What I’d like to see him do is let his momentum continue forward and down, with his head low and “nose to toes,” throwing arm following through down past his left knee.