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Year removed from comeback, Matt Harvey has low-key debut

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It lacked the drama of his opening Grapefruit League start a year ago, when Matt Harvey first was returning from Tommy John surgery and felt compelled to fire fastballs at 99 mph. Still, the Dark Knight had a positive 2016 exhibition debut for the New York Mets on Tuesday at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Harvey required only seven pitches to retire the first four Atlanta Braves batters he faced, faced bases-loaded situations in his final two frames and ultimately allowed one run on three hits and two walks in three innings. He primarily sat at 96 mph with his fastball during the 41-pitch outing and struck out one batter.

The lone run to score against Harvey came on a third-inning sacrifice fly by Nick Markakis after Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar singles and a walk to Freddie Freeman loaded the bases.

“Last year, obviously, there was a lot of unknown -- where things are going to be regarding the surgery,” Harvey said. “I think this year it’s nice not hearing, ‘How is your arm feeling? Are you healthy?’ all the time. … I think we’re all kind of in the same boat now, except for Zack [Wheeler] obviously, where nobody is really coming off of an injury or a missed year. We’ve all had our experience.”

Harvey escaped a serious threat in the second inning, although he never was hit hard during the frame. With one out, Adonis Garcia sent a comebacker that glanced off Harvey’s glove for an infield single. Third baseman Wilmer Flores then was charged with an error throwing to second base trying to initiate a would-be double play. After Nick Swisher worked a walk to cap a seven-pitch plate appearance and load the bases, Harvey then produced a 95 mph fastball, which initiated an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Herrera smothered the grounder off the bat of Daniel Castro on the backhand and shoveled it with his glove to Ruben Tejada at shortstop to begin the twin killing.

“That’s what spring is about,” Harvey said. “You have to amp things up and get into those situations. You’re never really going to learn from anything if you go 1-2-3 with seven or eight pitches throughout the whole thing. Obviously it’s spring training. Getting into those situations where you’re adrenaline starts pumping up a little bit, it’s good practice.”

Harvey said he is getting more “extension” -- or follow-through -- this spring training at the end of his delivery compared with last season. He also senses progress with his slider, which he threw “quite a bit” Tuesday.

“I think the spin and the swings and misses that I’ve gotten between here and live batting practice have definitely showed that’s where it needs to be,” Harvey said. “It wasn’t that case for three-quarters of the year last year, so it’s nice to have that back.”

Harvey’s first spring training start a year ago was flawless. He retired all six Detroit Tigers he faced while ramping up his fastball to 99 mph. On Tuesday against the Braves, Harvey topped out at 97 mph. His locker in the visitors clubhouse was crowded with reporters after the outing, but Harvey for the most part has enjoyed a low-key spring training now that the Tommy John surgery is in the rearview mirror.

“As you get older and you get into more spring trainings, I think you realize how long it is until the season actually starts, and also how long into the season that we want to go,” Harvey said. “Obviously, last year I was pretty excited to get back in there and let it all out. But as far as this spring training, I definitely think we all realize there’s still a lot of time to go and work to be done in order to get where we need to be.”

Harvey did lament the pair of walks he issued.

“That comes with not facing hitters, and get into situations that you haven’t been put in in a while,” Harvey said. “Eliminating damage, I think I did a good job of today. But as far as possibly getting into more damage, that’s something we need to work on.”

Meanwhile, Harvey insisted he really has not thought about his elbow since before he underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 22, 2013.

“I never had an issue with it,” Harvey said. “I never had soreness. I never had anything like that. So, for me, it never really was an issue.”