NEW YORK — The New York Mets will search for signs Monday night that the old Matt Harvey is still somewhere inside their one-time ace right-hander.
The Philadelphia Phillies will embark upon an even more pivotal quest: finding proof that hiring Gabe Kapler as their manager wasn’t a massive mistake.
The National League East rivals are scheduled to meet for the first time Monday night, when the Mets host the Phillies in the opener of a three-game series at Citi Field. Harvey, 5-7 with a 6.70 ERA in 19 games (including 18 starts) last year, is slated to face the Phillies’ Ben Lively (4-7, 4.26 ERA in 15 starts last year).
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Both teams are coming off losses in their most recent games. The Mets lost their first game of the season Sunday, when the visiting St. Louis Cardinals salvaged the finale of a three-game series 5-1. The Phillies were off Sunday after falling to the host Atlanta Braves 15-2 in the rubber game of a three-game series Saturday night.
The Phillies’ loss capped a nightmarish first series as a big league manager for Kapler, who was hired to replace Pete Mackanin last October. On Opening Day, Kapler pulled Aaron Nola after 5 1/3 innings despite pitching with a 5-0 lead and had thrown just 68 pitches. The Braves came back to win 8-5.
That was just a warmup act for Saturday, when Kapler called on left-hander Hoby Milner — who had pitched Thursday and Friday — in the third inning without asking Milner to warm up.
Milner got a handful of warmup tosses on the mound before getting the final out of the third, but it set off a chain of events that resulted in utility infielder Pedro Florimon throwing the final inning of the game. The Phillies used 21 pitchers against the Braves, the most by a team in the first three games of a season.
Kapler, whose managerial experience consists of one season of Class A ball in 2007, struck a tone equal parts defiant and upbeat afterward.
“I am remaining 100 percent positive,” Kapler told reporters. “I believe in this club. I believe in the men in that clubhouse. I believe in our coaching staff and there’s no chance that I’m going to let three games — two of them tougher — derail what we’re trying to accomplish here, which is to go to the postseason in 2018, which I believe we will do.”
Harvey has endured a nightmare of his own since the 2015 postseason, when he posted a 3.04 ERA in four starts but convinced then-Mets manager Terry Collins to leave him in for the ninth inning of Game 5 in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals scored twice to tie the score before winning the game and the series in 12 innings.
In the last two years, Harvey has gone 9-17 with a 5.78 ERA while being limited to 36 games (35 starts) because of surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome and a stress injury in his right shoulder. Harvey went 25-18 with a 2.53 ERA in 65 starts between 2012 and 2015, a span in which he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2014 season.
The Mets hope new manager Mickey Callaway, who was a pitching coach with the Cleveland Indians the previous five seasons, can help Harvey regain some of his previous form. Harvey posted a 4.50 ERA in five spring training starts but struck out 18 batters in 20 innings while expressing confidence in his stuff, command and mechanics.
“I think he’s going to go out there and throw the ball over the plate and give himself a chance,” Callaway said Sunday afternoon. “His confidence is really high right now. He looked great in spring training and he has good stuff.”
Harvey is 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies. Lively is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in three starts against the Mets.