Originally written on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 11/18/14

The Thursday Takeaway
With Johan Santana on the disabled list and R.A. Dickey’s magic beginning to wear, the Mets needed another impact pitcher to keep their plummeting playoff hopes alive. If Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks is any indication, that problem is solved.

Matt Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, was tasked with snapping a six-game skid in his major-league debut last night. He proved himself ready by posting a 112-to-48 K/BB in 110 innings for Triple-A Buffalo, and validated the Mets’ faith by contributing 5 1/3 shutout innings to the winning effort.

But that hardly does justice to the dazzling display Harvey put on for the 22,010 in attendance at Chase Field. The 23-year-old righty allowed only three hits and three walks, two of which came as fatigue set in during the bottom of the sixth inning. More impressively, he struck out 11 Diamondbacks batters, the highest strikeout total any pitcher has posted in his debut since Stephen Strasburg fanned 14 Pirates on June 8, 2010.

And, as if that weren’t enough, Harvey also went 2-for-2 at the plate against Arizona starter Wade Miley, becoming the first pitcher in the modern era to collect at least two hits and whiff at least 10 batters in his first career start. The former University of North Carolina standout’s effort may have been the most impressive two-way debut since Jason Jennings hurled a complete-game shutout and hit a home run in his opening salvo on Aug. 23, 2001. (Incidentally, the Mets were on the wrong end of that 10-0 defeat.)

If there is one knock on Harvey’s first start, it’s that he threw a season-high 106 pitches to record 16 outs, taxing a bullpen that has blown 16 saves this year. Interim closer Bobby Parnell needed 31 pitches to earn his third save, and, as a result, the Mets combined to throw 178 pitches despite allowing only one run.

Dominance at the cost of efficiency is a tradeoff manager Terry Collins would make in a heartbeat at every turn, but if Harvey wants to add more wins to his ledger, working deeper into games will be his next challenge. Assuming the Mets stick to their current pitching schedule, his next start will come on Tuesday night in San Francisco.

***

By the way, two hours before Harvey took the mound in the desert, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte also made a splash in his first taste of The Show. Manager Clint Hurdle put the 23-year-old toolshed atop his batting order for the series opener in Houston, and Marte promptly went deep on the first pitch of the game. Marte’s attempt to steal home in the fifth inning was less successful, but he certainly did his part to catalyze Pittsburgh’s 5-3 win over the Astros.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • The American League’s Cinderella wild-card contenders will square off at Camden Yards this weekend, as the 53-45 A’s visit the 52-47 Orioles. Coco Crisp, who was ice-cold for the first three-plus months of the season, has been red-hot since the start of July, logging a .361/.394/.590 triple slash with three home runs. The switch-hitting center fielder’s surge has been vital to Oakland’s 16-3 run, and he will try to keep it going in Baltimore, where he has hit .295/.377/.419 in 31 career games (Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Push came to shove for the Phillies and Cole Hamels earlier this week, and they hammered out a six-year, $144 million extension to keep the lefty around through 2018. Now, with that new deal in hand, Hamels gets the ball to kick off a pivotal series at Turner Field that could alter general manager Ruben Amaro’s deadline plans. The Phillies are 9 ½ games behind the Braves and 14 ½ shy of the first-place Nationals, but they have won four in a row, and a sweep in Atlanta could change their outlook on the trade market. Their first challenge: getting past Ben Sheets, who has tossed 12 scoreless innings since joining the Braves rotation on July 15 (Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET).
  • Three games separate the top two teams in the National League West, putting the division lead on the line when the Dodgers come to AT&T Park this weekend. Don Mattingly’s team is 0-2 in the Hanley Ramirez era, but don’t blame their new third baseman—he has gone 3-for-6 with three walks since the trade. Ramirez is 7-for-25 with two doubles and a home run in his previous meetings with tonight’s Giants starter, Matt Cain (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET).
  • With the Yankees ahead by 10 ½ games, the Red Sox’ American League East ship has sailed, but the upcoming series in the Bronx could impact Boston’s wild card hopes. A sweep would likely leave Bobby Valentine’s team six or seven games back in the crowded race—and that outcome could drive general manager Ben Cherington to move short-term assets, such as Cody Ross and Josh Beckett, at the upcoming deadline. As the Red Sox look to turn their season around, they need the pre-2012 Jon Lester to reemerge as soon as possible. Lester has failed to complete the fifth inning in each of his past three starts, and his ERA has ballooned from 4.33 to 5.46 over that span. He’ll try to bounce back in a duel with CC Sabathia in game two (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET). 
  • First, Ichiro Suzuki made his Yankees debut at Safeco Field, the only home park he had known as a major leaguer. Now, Wandy Rodriguez—who was traded to the Pirates earlier this week—will return to Minute Maid Park to take on the team that signed him out of the Dominican Republic as Eny Cabreja in 1999. The 33-year-old southpaw has logged a 3.42 ERA over 12 starts in Houston this season, and he is scheduled to face his former mates in game three of a four-game set that began last night (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET).
  • Trade talks between the Angels and the Rays have reportedly “fizzled out,” but perhaps they will be rekindled as Tampa Bay comes to Southern California for a three-game series this weekend. James Shields allowed five runs in six innings and was charged with the loss to the Orioles on Thursday, and the uniform he will wear for his next start is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, the Rays will hope that Matt Moore’s no-walk outing versus the Mariners on Monday—his first such effort in 19 starts this season—is a sign of things to come. The 22-year-old southpaw will lock horns with C.J. Wilson in the middle match (Saturday, 9:05 p.m. ET).
  • General manager Doug Melvin has made up his mind: Zack Greinke will be traded. The question is whether that trade will be made before Sunday afternoon, when he is expected to do battle with Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals. Greinke’s strong effort against the Phillies on Tuesday proved to potential suitors that the 28-year-old’s right arm is healthy and ready for a playoff push, and an encore at Miller Park this weekend could serve as evidence of his ability to beat the senior circuit’s best team to date. If he is shipped elsewhere before the series finale, Greinke will leave Milwaukee having gone 25-9 with a 3.67 ERA over 49 starts (Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET).
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