Why Matt Harvey may be even better than in 2015

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Can Matt Harvey be considerably better than he was in 2015? New York Mets manager Terry Collins is among those who believe so, now that Harvey has shed his “Tommy John hangover.”

Collins watched Friday as Harvey faced batters for the first time this spring training. And the manager took away two things: The slider that Harvey lacked for the first three-quarters of last season is back in full force. And there is late life on Harvey’s fastball that did not exist last season, when Harvey first returned from the ligament-replacement procedure.

Harvey threw his slider 14.1 percent of the time in 2015, down from 18.5 percent the year before his elbow surgery. Last year’s usage was concentrated during the final quarter of the season.

As for Harvey’s fastball, it averaged 95.9 mph last year, actually narrowly more than the 95.8 mph it averaged in 2013. But it lacked a late explosion as it approached the plate last season, according to Collins.

Harvey nonetheless went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA during the 2015 regular season. His ERA ranked sixth in the National League. With being a year further removed from Tommy John surgery, Harvey now may be scary good.

“Last year, we knew he was healthy because we saw what we saw in September,” Collins said. “But I’m seeing stuff that he didn’t have last year. I’m seeing that late life, that last giddy-up. I’m seeing better spin on the slider. And every time I see him throw either in the bullpen or what I saw today -- we talked about that Tommy John hangover -- there is something to that, because this guy, his stuff is a little bit better this year. And it was pretty good last year. So I’m very excited to see the way Matt’s throwing.”

Harvey said he did not feel good about his slider until three-quarters of the season had elapsed a year ago. He does not know whether it was related to his forearm still lacking strength or losing feel during his prolonged layoff.

“I just couldn’t really throw it last year until the end,” he said. “You never know how it’s going to come out, but today I threw a lot of good ones. That was kind of my pitch in 2013 and I kind of lived without it last year. It’s a good sign that today it felt really well.”

Including the postseason, Harvey logged 216 innings in 2015. That was the most ever by a pitcher in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, surpassing the 215 1/3 tossed by John Lackey with the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2013. It remains to be seen if there is a negative impact from that uncharted workload.

Still, Harvey’s stuff was nasty enough during Friday’s session facing batters that Collins teased the ace that he was “not very friendly” to his teammates who were batting during the first official full-squad workout of spring training.

“It’s a step in the right direction toward the regular season,” Harvey said about Friday’s session. “We’re moving along nicely and everything feels great. We’re all happy.”