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Friday, March 9, 2012
Mets 5, Braves 3: The Matt Harvey Show

By Adam Rubin

Matt Harvey breezed through two perfect innings in relief of Dillon Gee and Matt den Dekker delivered a tiebreaking two-run triple in the eighth as the Mets beat the Braves, 5-3, on Friday at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

The Mets produced three second-inning runs against Randall Delgado, who is the frontrunner over Julio Teheran for the fifth-starter’s spot, with Tim Hudson slated to be sidelined into May following offseason back surgery.

• Harvey retired all six batters he faced -- a sharp contrast from his first Grapefruit League appearance, when he walked three and plunked another among the eight batters he faced.

Teammate Tim Byrdak had advised Harvey recently to tune out opponents’ names and their résumés and just concentrate on making quality pitches, as cliché as that sounds. Harvey nonetheless took that to heart as he faced formidable Braves hitters.

Harvey began his outing by retiring Chipper Jones on a groundout and Eric Hinske on a flare to left field. He then struck out Jason Heyward on a 95 mph fastball above the strike zone in a flawless first frame.

Harvey said earlier in camp that he hoped to use a two-seam fastball (sinker) more this season, and use the four-seam (straight) fastball to go up the ladder and strike out batters, which seemed like the method of attack with Heyward.

“I threw a couple of two-seamers down,” Harvey said. “The last time it was running a little bit too much. Today I was locating well down. I didn’t really mean to go up that high with Heyward. I was trying to go in.”

When Sandy Koufax visited Mets camp Thursday, the Hall of Famer wanted to meet Harvey and fellow top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Koufax got a chance to watch Wheeler pitch in a minor league intrasquad game.

He also chatted with Harvey, who was in “disbelief” that Koufax asked for an introduction.

“After I said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’ he was like, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’” Harvey recalled. “He was like, ‘I told Terry [Collins] I wanted to meet you.’ It’s kind of surreal, I guess.”

Wheeler hails from Atlanta, and Harvey spent part of the offseason in that city too, working out with Mark Fleury, his former University of North Carolina catcher and a Cincinnati Reds farmhand, as well as at Georgia Tech with Mike Nickeas, another resident. Harvey also befriended 25-year-old Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson, who coincidentally lived in the same building. Hanson and Harvey both are represented by Scott Boras.

“We got to be throwing partners and became pretty good friends,” Harvey said about Hanson.

Sandy Alderson, meanwhile, has publicly stated Harvey and Jeurys Familia are not considerations for the Opening Day roster. Despite a report that they have already been told that information, Harvey insisted he has not been told in those blunt terms.

“I personally haven’t heard that,” Harvey said. “… No one has told me that. In my mind, I’m still going for it. Even if they did tell me there was no chance, still in my mind that’s always how I’m going to be. Like I’ve said before, whether it’s now or 10 years from now -- hopefully I’m still playing -- I’m going to be trying to prove a point everywhere I go.”

Josh Thole threw out Heyward attempting to swipe third base in the second inning. It was Thole’s second runner caught stealing in four attempts against him in Grapefruit League play. He had caught Washington’s Roger Bernadina in Monday’s exhibition opener. Thole also threw out Justin Turner attempting a steal in an intrasquad game last weekend.

Among major league catchers who allowed at least 55 steals last season, the rate of runners caught with Thole behind the plate -- 20.7% -- ranked only better than Jason Varitek (14.1%), John Buck (17.0%) and A.J. Pierzynski (20.3%).

But he now appears somewhat improved, despite the small sample size.

Thole said he is doing the same set of catching drills before every game, ensuring that he “doesn’t lose the feeling.” Under the tutelage of bench coach Bob Geren, a former major league catcher, Thole also has less movement pre-pitch behind the plate and has settled on one stance.

“Before we go to the bullpen, I do a routine where I do blocks, I do exchanges, I do my footwork, I do my receiving,” Thole said. “It takes like five minutes. That’s it. [Last season] I would do it one day, not do it the next two days -- do it one day, not do it for a week. That just never allowed me to get where I should. Not only my throwing, but I think it’s a big credit for just catching the baseball overall.”

As for his improved technique, Thole labeled it a “significant difference.”

Said Thole: “I was having a problem popping up and down. With a man on first base, I would give my sign and literally stand all the way up and then get back down in my crouch. So now I’m to the point where I just give my sign and I just stay. I get myself in a ready-for-throwing position.”

Zach Lutz took over at third base for Ronny Cedeno in the fifth in his first Grapefruit League appearance this spring training. Lutz grounded out to first base in his first at-bat and went 0-for-2. He had been sidelined since Bobby Parnell drilled him in the left elbow in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

• A day after Mike Baxter struck out with the bases loaded against the Miami Marlins, he came through with three Mets aboard this time. Baxter singled off Delgado in the second inning to plate Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had walked. With the bases still loaded, Cedeno delivered a two-run single to give the Mets a 3-1 lead.

• Gee allowed two earned runs on five hits while striking out two in three innings. Fernando Cabrera allowed a runner inherited from ex-Brave Chuck James to score as Atlanta had tied the score at 3 in the seventh.

“I felt OK,” Gee said. “I think I’m still trying to get adjusted to sitting down and going back out, sitting down and going back out. It took me a few throws to feel like I was loose again. Other than that I felt all right. I threw some good cutters. I didn’t walk anybody, so that’s a plus. The changeup, I threw a couple of good ones. It wasn’t as good as it was last game.”

• Left-hander Josh Edgin is not in major league camp, but he now has both of the Mets’ Grapefruit League saves. Edgin, 25, went a combined 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 27 saves in 49 relief appearances between low-A Savannah and high-A St. Lucie. He allowed 44 hits and 23 walks while striking out 76 in 66 innings.

Paul DePodesta has predicted Edgin can come on quickly to the majors, despite having not yet reached Double-A. And the Mets plan to borrow him frequently from minor league camp to get him experience and gauge his readiness.

“He’s got a very, very good arm from a funky delivery -- that little short-arm delivery,” Collins said. “The ball gets on you. He doesn’t throw as hard as [Braves right-handed closer Craig] Kimbrel, but he’s a lefty. Like Kimbrel, he’s got that little, quick, short delivery and the ball gets on you.

“We decided we were going to take a look at him this spring as much as we possibly can, just bring him over certain days.”

Edgin, Lutz and left-hander Darin Gorski, who also was on the trip as a borrowed minor leaguer, all hail from Pennsylvania and plan on running a baseball camp next offseason in the central part of the state.

• Collins said Lucas Duda (stiff back) should be on the trip Saturday to Viera to face the Nationals. “Yesterday, on his off-day, as you would expect Lucas Duda to do, he went out and worked his butt off,” Collins said. “He just got stiff. [Trainer] Ray [Ramirez] just didn’t want him to take a two-hour ride today. … He’s not happy the way he’s swinging. But I said, ‘You’ve got to use a little common sense. You don’t need to kill yourself. We’ve got three and a half weeks to go. You’re going to get plenty of at-bats.’”

Andres Torres (right glute) also should play Saturday against the Nats.

David Wright (left rib cage) took groundballs Thursday and is progressing.