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Have mechanical adjustments finally brought the old Matt Harvey back?

We saw that 97 mph fastball make a cameo on Thursday, which could mean the Dark Knight is rising once again.

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Shock waves were sent through the baseball world on May 4th when Matt Harvey was designated for assignment by the New York Mets, the team that drafted him and saw him reach super-stardom as a result of high velocity and nasty breaking pitches.

What goes up must come down, and that was apparent in the downfall of one of baseball’s most popular pitchers when he went down with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which ended his season in July 2016. He returned to start the season in 2017 but just was never the same. The velocity that caused batters to fear facing him wasn’t there and neither were the results. Between his return from Tommy John’s in 2015 and the 2017 season, he had lost over two mph off of his fastball.

Losing velocity off of your fastball is normal, although it usually doesn’t start to happen until you reach thirty years of age or older. For example, Felix Hernandez lost almost two miles per hour off of his fastball between 2008 and 2011, but he adapted and went on to finish top-ten in the Cy Young voting and made the All-Star team the next four consecutive seasons.

The real killer for Harvey, though, is his lack of command and efficiency; between 2013 and 2017 he was throwing over three more pitches per inning and 3.5 percent less strikes. Those two numbers look small but they’re a big deal if you want to pitch deep into ball games. The combined effect of his declined velocity and efficiency have spiraled Harvey’s career to a point where he’s no longer the Dark Knight of New York that saw him bring 40,000 plus at Citi Field to their feet.

Instead he now calls Cincinnati home, after he was traded for Devin Mesoraco and some cash on May 8th. A new path in his career has begun and he, from all accounts, seems to be taking a potential return to stardom seriously. He might be getting a bit more healthy too since being traded to the Reds, and his four-seam velocity has went from 92.6 miles per hour up to over 94 mph.

Even more good news came on Thursday. His latest start against the Cubs at Great American Ballpark saw Harvey touch 97.0 mph or higher five times, two of which came in the first inning and again on his 96th pitch. Since returning from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in 2017 he touched 97.0 miles per hour or higher in two different starts. Both starts came in early May.

While health and building up strength in his arm after getting a few more starts under his belt may be a key, I’ve come across something that tells me there are small adjustments in his mechanics that are more likely responsible.

Take this video for example, a side by side comparison of Harvey’s delivery with the Reds on June 21st and one from his last start with the Mets on April 19th. Both four-seamers, Harvey touched 97.6 mph on the pitch shown with the Reds and 92.5 mph on the pitch shown with the Mets.

Now I want to break a few key points that have changed between these two starts. Since they’re not too obvious just from the video alone, so I took some screenshots at those key points to illustrate the difference. Before we jump into that, it should be noted that the release point of his pitches have changed very little if at all even with the mechanical adjustments I’m about to dive into.

Baseball Savant

First his shoulders are now more perpendicular with home plate so his upper torso is no longer as twisted as it was when he was with the Mets.

Second, his pitching hand is now deep into the glove instead of behind the glove during leg left.

Third, his shoulders are not as titled down toward the back side of his body as well as his shoulders are more open to the batter.

Fourth, his finish after releasing the pitch is far more balanced allowing him to land more squarely toward home plate instead of falling slightly off towards first ball.

One other difference is that his delivery with the Reds is a few milliseconds slower than it was when he was with the Mets. Now it’s very hard to say what specific changes were made without either picking his or his coaches brains’ or becoming a mind reader. It could be as simple as him slowing the delivery down a bit or he could have a conscious “cue” that brings these difference as a result.

Either way, Harvey looked like a new pitcher Thursday, getting more velocity on all of his pitches and also noticeably more bite to his slider. Which brings up another interesting note. With the Mets, Harvey always had more vertical movement than horizontal movement on his slider and since coming to Cincinnati it’s the exact opposite, getting far more horizontal movement than vertical movement which tells us something has certainly changed.

Texas Leaguers

I, along with many others I’m sure, are very exciting to see these things. These adjustments show us that Harvey is doing everything he can to return to his previous ace form. Although we need to see more of this in order to be certain the real Matt Harvey is back, this is one big step towards returning to a pitcher who can once again dominate for six-plus innings. Only time will tell if this is the real deal or just a false glimmer of hope.

Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.