LOS ANGELES — The last month has been the best of this season for Matt Harvey, as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Earlier in the year, his command sometimes eluded him. But in August, Harvey has surrendered only two walks — with 24 strikeouts — and just 15 hits allowed in 27 innings. He's made four starts and allowed just one run, lowering his ERA to 2.48.
Harvey is back to throwing the way he did in 2013, before he hurt his elbow, and he is the Mets' best pitcher at the moment.
But there is this looming problem.
Harvey has only a handful of innings remaining under the number prescribed by surgeons — 180. Harvey has thrown 160 this season, with four weeks remaining in the regular season and the month of October to come. What happens next is unclear.
For the Washington Nationals, there was no fudging with the numbers. Stephen Strasburg — who, like Harvey, is represented by agent Scott Boras — was shut down when he reached his prescribed number of 160 innings in 2012 (159 1/3 innings, to be precise). That decision was debated throughout the industry that summer, and even since, with some teams back-loading the innings of young pitchers later into the season specifically to avoid the Strasburg quandary late in the season. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo explained his decision with Strasburg and has continued to stand by it, saying, in so many words, that he couldn't possibly work against the advice of the best people in the medical field.
The Mets pitched Harvey from the outset of the season, and now they could be bumping against the recommended innings limits very soon amid a lot of unanswered questions:
1. How will Harvey handle this? He could continue to ask for the ball and eschew the advice of the doctors.
2. What will the Mets do? Harvey can ask for the ball, but will the Mets give it to him? Will they defer to the medical recommendations, or will they be OK in having Harvey pitch past the prescribed innings limits in the name of trying to win ballgames?
3. With the Mets in a strong position to make the playoffs, how will they use the innings that remain for him? Will they sit him down for an extended period of time leading to the postseason?
If the Mets' medical staff and front office intends to abide by the 180-inning limit for Harvey, there would be an argument to be made to shut down the right-hander right now — when the team has a 5½-game lead — before ramping him back up for a start or two at the end of the regular season. That way, Harvey could get some needed work for refinement and have some innings left for the postseason, when he probably would start two or three games.
4. If the Mets decide to pull the reins back on Harvey, whether in limiting his innings before the postseason or in shutting him down entirely, will general manager Sandy Alderson protect the pitcher from public scrutiny the way that Rizzo protected Strasburg by taking full responsibility for the choices?
Because if and when this all goes down, this is going to be an enormous story in New York, no matter how the Mets handle it. And the pitcher could face tremendous scrutiny.
There have been examples, of course, of pitchers compiling huge innings totals as they helped their team into and through the postseason, like last year, when Madison Bumgarner threw about twice as many innings as any other pitcher in October in the Giants' championship run. Cole Hamels increased his innings total from 190 in 2007 to 262 1/3 in 2008 (regular season and postseason included).
But neither Bumgarner nor Hamels was coming back from Tommy John surgery and still working through rehabilitation from an elbow injury, as Harvey is in 2015.
It's a situation worth watching.
Lefty-hitting Rizzo now adept at hitting lefties
Anthony Rizzo has seven home runs in 26 games in August. Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Anthony Rizzo used to be one of the worst lefty hitters against left-handed pitchers, batting .208 in 2012 and .189 in 2013. But now he's one of the best, with a .321 average and a .431 on-base percentage. When asked Saturday about how that happened, he pointed directly at Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske.
In response to the way opposing teams shifted against Rizzo, Hinske convinced Rizzo to move closer to home plate against lefties — basically to move the strike zone — to take away the inside part of the plate. "He's taken it to another level," said Hinske, noting that Rizzo now hovers near the inside corner, refusing to move. "They hit him all the time," he added. "He's a big bear, and he doesn't move."
Rizzo has developed an excellent two-strike approach against lefties, sometimes shortening his swing or taking hits through the middle or the other way. But as he joked, it's not always that old-fashioned thought process — "'Jurassic Park,'" he said with a smile in reference to the tiny arms of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. He'll sometimes look to drive the ball against lefties with two strikes. And this year, he's actually got six homers against lefties, including a long homer against left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
The Baseball Tonight folks have a preview of the game.
Carl Crawford started against left-hander Jon Lester on Saturday and had one of the Dodgers' four steals against Lester, who has now allowed 39 stolen bases this season. The fact that Crawford has started each of the last two games indicates he is going to get a chance to play every day while Yasiel Puig is out.
He's too humble to know it, but Scully is an extraordinary man, writes Jeff Miller.
Patrick Saunders writes about having a hot dog with the legend.
• Joc Pederson has been benched, of course, and on Saturday, he was out early on the field at Dodger Stadium taking extra batting practice, working on shortening his swing.
• An evaluator who has watched Clayton Kershaw for years says Kershaw's performance on Friday night against the Cubs was arguably the best of his career because he commanded his fastball both inside to right-handed hitters and away to lefties. Kershaw has an 0.92 ERA in his last 10 starts.
• One Cubs insider says Joe Maddon's first year as manager of the Cubs has been a combination of Joe Torre and Phil Jackson … taking pressure off the young players in how he handles their struggles and helping them through the long season.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Encarnacion is the first player in Blue Jays history to have three home runs and nine RBIs in a single game. Encarnacion is the 16th player in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to have three home runs and nine RBIs in a single game, and the first since Lonnie Chisenhall did so last season for the Indians. Encarnacion joins Fred Lynn as the only players with three homers and nine RBIs in a game against the Tigers. Each did so in a 15-1 win.