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Green Shoots

We’ll begin with the bringdown portion of today’s recap.

Did Harvey look better than he did in his return against Houston? He did — his victory [6] over the Reds is being billed as progress, and it undoubtedly was.

But we need to ask the larger question: progress towards what? It’s somewhere between possible and likely that the Harvey of 2015 is gone, with thoracic outlet syndrome having reduced him in a way that a torn elbow ligament couldn’t.

Harvey no longer has the stuff to miss bats, and he’s competing for a job in a baseball era in which guys who throw 95 grow on trees. Will that swing-and-a-miss stuff come back? Perhaps, but there is no pitcher who’s had sustained success at his trade after the operation to repair thoracic outlet syndrome. Harvey could be the first, it’s true. But it seems more likely that he will be the latest in a line of cautionary examples.

That means Harvey’s ceiling may now be a back-end-of-the-rotation arm, one who wins when he misses bats and gets run support and doesn’t when he doesn’t. He’s headed for this third arbitration year in 2018, slated to make north of $5 million. Is that where the Mets want to spend their money, particularly given their signals that they’re not going to spend as much of it? I’m not sure it is.

If you wanted signs of hope, though, you did have them Thursday. Josh Smoker [7]‘s slider was nasty as he turned in his best inning of the year, Jeurys Familia [8] looked much better in a clean inning, and AJ Ramos [9] closed out the game. Meanwhile, Brandon Nimmo [10] socked two homers, Lagares hit one, Dominic Smith [11] drove in a run and Kevin Plawecki [12] collected another hit.

Nimmo may never hit two home runs in one game again, but his sense of the strike zone is preternatural — he almost always sees Ball 3 in an at-bat. If he can keep that discerning eye (and there’s no reason to suggest he can’t) and slash enough hits off pitchers who try to exploit his patience by going after him early, he can be a valuable big-league contributor.

Lagares’s batting eye is more of a question — he’s never shown sustained ability to lay off breaking pitches out of the zone — but his superlative defense means he has less to do to prove himself useful. Smith looks like a smart hitter and a helpless one on consecutive at-bats, which is just a fancy way of saying he’s a rookie. But Plawecki has looked far more competent in his most-recent go-round with the Mets, and could prove a perfectly able complement to Travis d’Arnaud [13], at least until d’Arnaud inevitably a) steps on a land mine; b) contracts river blindness; c) is drilled in the knee by a meteorite; or d) all four at once. Going by TdA’s unfortunate chart, I’d predict at least one of those things will happen by Tax Day.

Anyway, the Mets won and won handily, and while Harvey got most of the pixels, the real signs of hope were elsewhere. Which, ultimately, may be more important to the Mets’ prospects in 2018 and beyond.

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