Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler headline a handful of budding young pitchers who hope to one day bring the New York Mets organization back to relevance again. Harvey, in his first full season, is doing his best to do just that–as exemplified by his near-perfect, nine shutout frames in Tuesday night’s walk-off victory by the Whitestone kid, Mike Baxter–and Wheeler is knocking on the door to crack the big-league rotation soon enough. As both develop, the pair continuously leads a youth movement in the organization that look to achieve what this franchise has yet to celebrate in 27 years; a world championship.
Not only someone who was a key cog of a dominant Mets rotation and an integral part of that champion 1986 club, but also someone who interacts and analyzes the likes of Harvey and the team on a daily basis, Ron Darling offers intricate insight on these young arms and his thoughts on their first months of the 2013 season thus far.
Sitting on the back patio of the Irish Circle Tavern in Rockaway Park, Queens — who hosted a luncheon for Hurricane Sandy Relief in which he was a guest of honor with Mike Baxter – -Darling describes to me the way in which he goes about evaluating a pitcher.
“The three things that I benchmark, that I judge pitchers by.” said Darling as jets from the nearby JFK International Airport fly loudly overhead, giving the conversation a true Citi Field vibe. “Their ability to throw fastballs on the corner and both sides of the plate, they can throw a breaking ball over the plate behind in the count, and they have a bulldog and a competitive mentality.”
After explaining his methods of evaluation, Darling goes on to explain how Harvey and Wheeler fit into his equation.
“Harvey has all three.” said Darling. “Wheeler has all three now but not at the major league level. You can’t judge minor league pitchers until they pitch on this stage because it’s just such a big jump. You’re pitching now against people that used to be on your video games. Until that happens I think it is tough to judge guys.”
As shown by his bloody-nose inning and simply his pure demeanor on the mound, the competitive prowess of Harvey is rarely questioned. When it comes to Wheeler however, his “bulldog” isn’t always quite as outwardly apparent. The intangible “bulldog” factor of Darling’s evaluation, he says, comes in all types and varieties.
“A bulldog comes in many shapes and forms. said Darling. “In my day, Dave Stewart was considered a bulldog with the stare, but so was Orel Hershiser without the stare. It comes in a lot of different ways. A lot of guys try to fake it, you can see through it. Zack might have a different way of doing it; he might be quieter about it, as opposed to Matt who may be a bit more overt about it. Matt’s from the East Coast, and East coast kids tend to be a little more overt anyway, and Zack might be a little quieter. It doesn’t mean that they both can’t be pitching assassins in their own way.”
Wheeler’s toughness in-game had begun to come into question, to an extent due, to his rough first month of the season in which he allowed 18 runs in 23.1 innings. Since then, the 22-year old has put together back-to-back dominant efforts and appears to be getting his season on track. Darling, who says he has seen Wheeler pitch live on roughly six occasions or so, believes the slow start was due to his lack of innings in Port St. Lucie after being sidelined with an oblique strain.
“What happened to Zack is that he had a shortened Spring Training, he was playing catch up, and that’s why he had the first bad outings.” said Darling. “Terry Collins said if you want to come up here you’ve got to throw strikes and he has, so sometimes you just need some gentle prodding and I think that was the best thing that happened to him.”
While Collins and the Mets await the proper time to give Wheeler that call to come up, they have been able to revel in the incredible season so far from the Amazin’s other distinguished young arm in Harvey, who has continued to draw up a significant stir across baseball that hasn’t been seen for a rookie arm in Flushing in some time. His career is merely 16 starts long between 2012 and 2013, however Darling explains that the praise for Harvey is well-deserved.
“If he continues the way he’s going, we’re talking about a young man in his first full season having the chance to pitch or start in his home ballpark at the All-Star Game.” tells Darling. “That’s a pretty amazing feat.”
Of the attention in particular, the now weekly Met holiday known as Harvey Day has become one of the most popular celebrations of the young workhorse.
“You say Harvey Day, I was thinking about Paul Harvey, the great radio icon who used to say ‘good day’ to end his broadcasts.” said Darling, in reference to his chuckle when I mentioned the term Harvey Day in my question. “That’s what Matt Harvey does with his innings when he ends with strikeouts: ‘Good day.’”
Both Harvey and Wheeler will look to have more ‘good days’ than bad as they continue their respective journeys towards making their presence known and leaving those such as Darling “so impressed” in what hopes to be two long, successful major-league Met careers.
I just wanted to thank the Mets, Citigroup and the Irish Circle Tavern for putting together a wonderful luncheon to benefit the continued effort to rebuild following Hurricane Sandy. I would also like to thank Ron Darling who amid a room of fans, reporters and officials not only took time out to speak privately with me, but gave exceptional insight on two of the Mets greatest young talents.