Preserving the Mets’ hot young arms

With the Mets building their lead almost as methodically as the Yankees blew theirs, we’re going to start seeing more stories about the preservation of all those hot young arms, especially with October looming.

Case in point!

Though Matt Harvey swears thoughts of innings limits are not lodged in his brain, anyone with a pocket calculator and a spare minute can do the math. By firing another eight shutout innings Tuesday in the Mets’ 4-0 win over the Rockies, Harvey jumped up to 148 on the season. The Mets have said multiple times that he won’t exceed around 185-190, at least until they remove his shackles in October.

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So now Harvey has about 40 innings left to play with, over what would be nine starts if the Mets stick to their current five-man rotation.

They won’t.

"I will tell you this: We are going to do everything in our power to keep from shutting this guy down — any of those guys down," manager Terry Collins said, referring to Harvey, deGrom and Noah Syndergaard as a group. "He’s on pace to get to his [limit] fast."

It seems part of the plan is a six-man rotation in September, with Steven Matz back in action. But of course any sort of plan can only be tentative, and this plan presumes that a) all six projected starters will still be healthy in September, and b) the Mets are still locked in a death struggle with the Nationals. It’s possible — not likely, but possible — that the Mets will have an eight-game lead or something on the 10th of September, in which case they can plug just about anyone into the rotation.

Actually, they wouldn’t do that. Because of 2007. But you know what I mean. A lot might happen between now and the last day of the season.

Oh, and it’s not obvious that anyone should be particularly concerned about Syndergaard or deGrom; the latter’s been healthy for a while and doesn’t have much mileage on his arm, while the former has thrown only 128 innings this season, including the minors. So it looks like we’re really talking about just Harvey, who’s now thrown 148 innings this season. With a regular-season "limit" of 185-190, that would give him only 40 more innings, or six more starts.

And he’s scheduled for three more this month, which would allow only three more the rest of the way, instead of the five or six more without any limits. A six-man rotation will change that equation, though. I’ve penciled out the rest of the season and have Harvey for five more starts … but that includes the last game of the season, on the 4th of October, which probably won’t mean anything.

So now we’re looking at only seven more starts: three in August, four in September. At six innings apiece, we’re up to 190 innings. Just at the upper limit of the ("soft") limit. So, no problem! Especially if Terry Collins is judicious and a) lifts Harvey for a pinch-hitter relatively early in close games, and b) doesn’t let him pitch when a game’s already decided. Remember this one, when the Mets were up 8-1 after five innings but Harvey went seven? Yeah. No. Don’t do that any more.

The innings limit is a little risky, because it’s probably going to mean one fewer start for Harvey than otherwise. But it’s also good to have a plan in place, even if you’re willing to be flexible about it. And of course the Mets have, at least for now, the luxury of six legitimate starting pitchers.