Nats praise dominant Strasburg, defend struggling Harvey

NEW YORK - The comparisons are inevitable and likely will follow both Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey through the ends of their respective careers. Both are hard-throwing right-handers who burst onto the scene as rookies, only to suffer torn elbow ligaments that required Tommy John surgery and a long road to recovery.

That, of course, is where Strasburg and Harvey's paths moved in alternate directions. Where the Nationals took the overly cautious route with their young ace, shutting him down before the 2012 postseason, the Mets rode Harvey straight through the 2015 World Series.

So on nights when these two pitchers happen to square off in person, it is unavoidable to compare them, compare where they've been and compare where they're going. And the two couldn't have looked more diametrically opposite than they did tonight during the Nationals' 9-1 thumping of Harvey and the Mets.

Strasburg-Gray-Mets-Sidebar.jpgWhile Strasburg cruised his way to yet another victory, improving to 7-0 on the season, Harvey was battered around by a Nats lineup that knocked him out in the third inning with nine runs already on the board. Which annoyed the Citi Field crowd of 39,494 so much, the once-beloved Dark Knight of Gotham trudged back to the dugout to resounding boos, leaving his opponents of all people to defend him.

"(He's throwing) 91-93 instead of 97-98," Bryce Harper said. "It kind of goes back to, what, he had surgery last year and then he forced 230 innings? I feel bad for him. He comes off the mound and he gets booed. I work out with him in the offseason. Being around him a little bit when working out, he works his tail off. You never want to see a guy do that. All the best to him."

Harvey, who between the 2015 regular season and postseason threw a total of 216 innings (most ever for a pitcher in his first year back from Tommy John surgery), hasn't looked like himself since. He currently sports a 5.77 ERA in nine starts, has yet to reach the seventh inning and tonight gave up a flurry of hard-hit balls to a Nationals lineup that had been struggling entering this series.

"I wouldn't read too much into it," said Daniel Murphy, Harvey's former Mets teammate, who tonight homered off him to start the Nationals barrage. "We all know how dangerous Matt is. I think any pitcher and any hitter will tell you, it's one start, one at-bat, one bullpen session away. And it sounds like from what I read he's feeling better in those bullpen sessions. So personally I'm not going to read too much into it. I've seen how dangerous he can be, and I'm sure he's not that far away at all."

The question is whether the Mets will continue to let Harvey work this out on a major league mound, or if they need to find some other avenue for him. At things currently stand, he and Strasburg are scheduled to meet again Tuesday night in Washington.

New York manager Terry Collins, though, wouldn't commit to that just yet.

"As I tried to explain to Matt again - there's some people that don't believe in this - this kid went above and beyond last year," Collins told reporters after the game. "And I'm not sure he's recuperated from it. I'm going to stand by it. It's not an excuse. We don't make excuses here. I think it might be a reason. I think there's a difference between a reason and an excuse. That's where I stand on it. I've told Matt I still trust him. I still believe in him. I've seen him do it. But we'll take a hard look at what the next move is going to be."

The Nationals don't have to think much at all about what to do next with Strasburg, other than keep sending him out to the mound every five days and hope he continues to dominate. With six more innings of one-run, 10-strikeout ball, he improved to 7-0 with a 2.80 ERA this season.

The Nats have now won Strasburg's last 13 starts, a new franchise record. And go back to last summer, when he returned from a neck injury, and over a 22-start span, he's 15-2 with a 2.20 ERA, 185 strikeouts and only 28 walks.

"We hope he never loses," manager Dusty Baker said of the 27-year-old, who just signed a $175 million extension with the club last week. "You know it's inevitable that he's going to lose. But since he hasn't lost, why expect a loss?"

The last time these two faced off in this ballpark, with the Mets ace beating the Nats ace, fans chanted "Harvey's better!" over and over again.

The narrative has changed just a bit since then.

More on last night's blowout victory in New York
Strasburg cruises while Nats pummel Harvey in 9-1 ...

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