In New York, where your every move is dissected to a T by fans and media, achieving and maintaining sports stardom can be difficult to do. Just ask Matt Harvey, who went from being the toast of the town while helping the Mets to the World Series last October to having his ability (and character) roundly criticized after his rough start to the 2016 season. And after he lost back-to-back outings against the Nationals recently, it seemed like he had reached rock bottom.
But for one outing, the man known as "The Dark Knight" managed to silence his critics with a vintage performance against the Chicago White Sox on Memorial Day. He allowed just two hits over seven shutout frames, striking out six and issuing just one walk in the Mets' 1-0 win. The victory raised his record to 4-7 and lowered his ERA to 5.37.
And unlike his previous start, he addressed the media after the game. Per MLB.com:
"There's a lot of emotion....It's been a while.…The idea is to do everything you can to help the team, and I felt like I wasn't doing that very well. Today, to be able to go out in a one-run ballgame like that and be able to put up zeros, was very exciting."
The difference for Harvey on Monday was establishing his dominant fastball that had been missing for most of the first two months of the season. His heater was clocked as high as 98 mph, a marked improvement over his previous starts.
Harvey was considered a hero in 2015, his first full campaign post-Tommy John surgery, as he pitched a total of 216 innings between the regular season and the playoffs. No pitcher had ever thrown that many innings in the first season following the procedure. And it's precisely that fact that many have pointed to when discussing whether or not the 27-year-old right hander is still feeling the effects from last year's overuse.
So will Harvey return to form? Can he reclaim his status at the Mets ace? It's too early to tell, but Monday's outing was the first that provided a light at the end of the tunnel. Just don't expect the circus to end anytime soon.
"I think it's a first step," Harvey said. "Obviously, this isn't going to mean anything unless I continue to do this and stay with what we've been working on. It's a work in progress, but I'm happy that I was able to go out there, feel comfortable in my mechanics and get the job done."
Nats (31-21) vs. Phillies (26-25) at Citizens Bank Park
Fresh off their comeback victory on Monday night, the Nationals will look to make it three straight wins overall as the continue their series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup on Tuesday after he took a pitch off his right leg on Monday night. Harper was diagnosed with a contusion on his right leg and, as of last night, was considered day-to-day according to what manager Dusty Baker told reporters in Philly.
Pitching for the Nats will be Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) in his 10th start of the season. He's coming off a strong performance of seven innings and just one earned run against the Cardinals. Ross saw the Phillies back on April 15 and tossed 7 2/3 scoreless frames in a Nationals win.
Former seventh overall pick Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) will take the mound for Philly. He's faced the Nats twice this season, once allowing seven earned runs in five innings on April 16 and then the other time going seven shutout frames in a Phillies win on April 28.
First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 869
Starting pitchers: Nats - Joe Ross vs. Phillies - Aaron Nola
CF Ben Revere
RF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Clint Robinson
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Joe Ross
CF Odubel Herrera
SS Freddy Galvis
3B Maikel Franco
C Cameron Rupp
1B Ryan Howard
LF Tyler Goeddel
RF David Lough
2B Cesar Hernandez
RHP Aaron Nola
Here are a few leftover thoughts from Monday night's Nationals win over the Phillies…
Is Zimmerman finally starting to heat up?
Ryan Zimmerman missed his ninth homer of the season by a matter of inches on Monday night as he watched his long flyball in the seventh inning bounce off the railing in center field at Citizens Bank Park. Instead, it was his first triple since last April and the 20th of his career. A 12-year veteran, Zimmerman is usually good for one or two of them per season.
The triple was Zimmerman's fourth extra-base hit in his last three games and his 15th of the month of May. In April he only had four extra-base hits the entire month. Zimmerman's four XBHs are the most he's had in a three-game span all season. Over his last 19 games he has seven homers, 12 RBI, eight walks, a .355 OBP and a 1.007 OPS.
Zimmerman is still hitting just .244 this year through 46 games and .247/.309/.769 since the start of 2015 (141 G). But perhaps this recent stretch can get him going. All year it has been pointed out how highly he ranks in average exit velocity - currently 11th in MLB at 94.7 miles per hour - and it may now be starting to pay off.
Papelbon keeps having trouble with the Phillies
Jonathan Papelbon earned his 14th save of the season on Monday night, but once again it was an eventful outing against his former team. Papelbon served up back-to-back doubles to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, the second by Ryan Howard. That brought home Maikel Franco and cut the Nationals' lead to 4-3 with no outs.
Papelbon escaped, but it wasn't easy. Since getting traded from Philadelphia to Washington, Papelbon has blown two saves and has allowed six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings (9.53 ERA) against the Phillies.
Compare those numbers to what he's done against the rest of the league since joining the Nats and it will make you scratch your head. Papelbon has a 2.09 ERA (9 ER in 38.2 IP) with the Nats against non-Phillies teams. The Phillies are 29th in baseball in runs scored this season, too. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for it, but Papelbon just can't solve his former team.
Roark goes seven strong innings
Tanner Roark continues to bounce back nicely from his May 14 disaster against the Marlins, his worst start of the season. In his three outings since, Roark has allowed just four earned runs in 20 2/3 total innings. In four of his last five starts Roark has gone at least six innings with two runs or less allowed.
Roark now has a 2.70 ERA, which ranks just third on the Nats but 13th overall in the National League. He places sixth in slugging percentage against (.304) and 11th in the NL in OPS against (.607). One stat that really stands out for Roark is his groundball rate. His groundball/flyball ratio is 1.94, which ranks third in the NL and seventh in baseball.
As good as Roark has been, the Nats are just 4-7 in his starts this season and have lost five of his last seven outings. He's been killed by a lack of run support, ranking fifth from the bottom (100th among qualifying pitchers) with an average of 2.55 runs per game scored by his team. Stephen Strasburg, who is a perfect 9-0 and has seen the Nats win his last 15 starts dating back to last season, is second from the top with an average of seven runs scored per start.
Revere keeps searching for consistency
Ben Revere went 0-for-4 on Monday and is now hitless in three straight games and in five of his last six. He's still not striking out, which is good. Revere only has one strikeout in his last eight games, a span of 30 at-bats, and he has the best contact percentage on the Nats (88.6%).
And when Revere gets hits, they tend to come in bunches. In each of the last five games he's notched a hit, he's landed at least two in those contests. That gives him a .282/.333/.436 slash-line over the last 11 games. That's not bad, but it has been feast or famine for the outfielder with six hitless outings during that stretch.