As the Mets' push for the playoffs moves toward September and October, the dreaded issue of innings limits looms over the heads of their young pitchers, who have been the leaders in their resurgence to relevance. At the head of the class is Matt Harvey, who is pitching in his first full season since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Before his start Sunday against Pittsburgh, Harvey had thrown 148 innings this season. His previous high of 178.1 innings came in 2013. Harvey has made some small changes in his pitch selection this year to not necessarily limit his innings, but to limit the number of pitches he throws. The hope behind this is to induce batters to make quick outs via weak contact early in counts, rather than going deep into counts and having to reach back for that "something extra" to put away a hitter with a strikeout.
The strategy has worked out so far, and the difference-maker has been Harvey's increased use of his two-seam sinking fastball—a pitch that is designed to get quick outs—while backing off on the four-seam fastball—a pitch that pitchers love to use to blow hitters away. Harvey is using the two-seamer 15 percent of the time this year while using his four-seamer 51 percent of the time. Compare that to 2013, when he only threw the two-seamer two percent of the time and the four-seamer 58 percent of the time.
The change has benefited Harvey, although it has been slightly detrimental to his strikeout numbers. In 2013, Harvey struck out 9.6 per nine innings and averaged 103.5 pitches per start and 3.9 pitches per batter. This year he has struck out 8.2 per nine innings and has averaged 97.5 pitches per start and 3.7 pitches per batter.
The Mets will use methods to cut innings down the stretch for Harvey and other young starters Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Spot starts and a six-man rotation have been mentioned. Steven Matz is on track to return to the rotation in September once rehab from his lat injury is complete. Triple-A starters Logan Verrett and Dillon Gee could see turns in the rotation next month as well. General manager Sandy Alderson has stated that the postseason is "independent" of innings limits, so if the Mets do qualify for the postseason, Harvey and his newly found pitching efficiency will be ready for the challenge.