The Dark Knight, the nickname Matt Harvey earned by blowing fastballs by hitters and challenging them with nasty breaking balls as a young New York Mets ace in 2013 and 2015, returned in spirit on Thursday night.
It did not return in velocity and stuff, and that was a bit of a problem for the Angels right-hander, who took an ill-advised trip down memory lane while giving up six runs and seven hits — two of them homers — in six innings of a 6-2 loss to the Houston Astros before an announced crowd of 35,928 in Angel Stadium.
Harvey walked two batters with two outs in the first inning and gave up a two-run double to Yordan Alvarez. He got ahead of leadoff man George Springer with a one-and-two count to open the third.
“When you’re out there and you’re in the zone, you always remember what you used to be able to do,” Harvey said. “When I got to 1-2 on Springer, I tried to throw a 98-mph fastball on the outside corner. Obviously, I can’t do that anymore.”
Five years removed from Tommy John surgery, three years removed from shoulder surgery and two years removed from a two-month stint on the injured list because of a stress injury to his shoulder, what came out of Harvey’s hand was a 92-mph fastball that was up and over the middle.
Springer belted it over the right-field wall for his fourth homer of the series, his 22nd of the season and a 3-0 Houston lead. Yuli Gurriel’s RBI two-out double to right and Josh Reddick’s RBI single to right pushed Houston’s lead to 5-0 in the third. Harvey then threw two balls to Bregman to start the fifth.
“I was remembering what it was like to be able to go inside with aggression and break someone’s bat,” Harvey said. “Obviously, he’s probably not the right guy to do that with.”
Harvey left a 91-mph fastball middle in. Bregman slammed it over the left-field wall for his 24th homer and a 6-0 Astros lead.
“Just a couple of bad pitches, a couple of stupid pitches that I made, thinking I can still throw by people,” Harvey said. “If I’m a little bit smarter, it’s probably a 3-2 game or a 4-2 game, and we have a little better chance of getting back in there.”
Harvey fueled some hope among the Angels last Saturday when he returned from a seven-week stint on the injured list because of an upper-back strain to throw 52/3 strong innings, allowing one earned run and four hits, striking out three and walking three, in a 6-1 win over Seattle.
But Thursday night’s start looked much like many of those in the first two months of the season, when Harvey was plagued by inconsistent command, an inability to put hitters away and a susceptibility to big innings.
He walked five and struck out one Thursday night, got swinging strikes on just three of 92 pitches and none of his 52 fastballs to fall to 3-5 with a 7.09 ERA in 12 starts.
“He wasn’t throwing strikes in the first inning, he gave up a couple of walks and a couple of hard-hit balls,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’ve seen him better, for sure.”
Harvey’s struggles have cost the Angels in the win-loss column, and they could become even more costly to their payroll. In addition to his $11-million base salary, Harvey will earn $250,000 for each game he starts from 16 to 26 games.
“He actually had some pretty good stuff tonight,” Angels catcher Dustin Garneau said. “His fastball and slider were really working, and he threw some good changeups, too. I think Matt pitched better than the scoreboard told us. He just missed a couple pitches, and they didn’t miss.”
Mike Trout returned to the Angels lineup as the designated hitter after missing the previous three games because of a minor right-calf strain and doubled in four at-bats.
First baseman Albert Pujols departed after seven innings because of left-hamstring tightness, but the injury is not believed to be serious.
The Angels were averaging 5.7 runs per game since May 23, the second-most in the American League behind Boston in that span, but they barely put a dent in the arsenal of Astros left-hander Wade Miley, who did not allow a hit while walking two in the first 42/3 innings.
Brian Goodwin broke up Miley’s no-hitter with a double to right with two outs in the fifth, and the Angels snapped the shutout with Justin Upton’s sacrifice fly and Pujols’ RBI single in the sixth. But with two on and one out, Kole Calhoun grounded into a 3-6-1 double play to end the inning.
Harvey, meanwhile, will try to find a happier medium between fantasy and reality, between over-confidence and common sense, in his next start.
“It’s always gonna be in there — you can’t just forget what you’ve been able to do and what you pitched like before,” Harvey said. “I don’t think I need to change my demeanor about that. I just need to be a little bit smarter.”