PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Fans lined the fences of both sides of the bullpen here Friday, shoulder to shoulder so they could watch the man on the pitcher's mound.
He was wiping his face with a towel when bench coach Bob Geren shouted from the neighboring field: "He's ready!"
Matt Harvey walked over, stepped on the rubber and peered in toward the batter's box. For the first time in 18 months, he saw somebody standing there. The honor belonged to David Wright.
"Ready, Matt?" Terry Collins said with a nod. "Here we go."
With that, Harvey reached a modest milestone in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. For the first time since the operation to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow, Harvey faced batters.
It hardly mattered that they were his own teammates -- Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy, a grouping he called "basically our core four." Nor did it seem to matter that the hitters were instructed not to swing.
When Harvey finished, applause drifted in from the crowd behind the fence. He threw roughly 45 pitches and said he felt good doing it. "I was in 'compete mode,' " he said. "I wasn't holding back. It obviously wasn't a playoff game, but things were coming out free and easy, and I felt like if we were playing an intrasquad game, that's kind of how I was taking it."
Harvey threw all the offerings in his arsenal, including his slider, which places additional stress on the elbow. And he did so without any issue.
"I was kind of surprised by how well things felt," he said. "The slider was good. I felt like I picked up right where I left off."
Few meaningful insights can come from a glorified throwing session. Still, Harvey asked his teammates for feedback as soon as he came off the mound.
Wright noticed something that went far beyond velocity or mechanics: "I just saw a guy who was happy to be out there."
From behind the plate, Travis d'Arnaud spotted traces of the perfectionist that still burns within. "When he made a mistake," he said, "the next pitch was a perfect pitch."
Perhaps the presence of a crowd changed the equation. Collins noticed that Harvey had more life on his pitches, including a few that looked to be near game speed. "It's all moving along the way you'd like it to,'' he said, "so we hopefully don't have any blips."
Collins stopped short of calling the throwing session a milestone. For him, that will come Friday, when Harvey is slated to make his exhibition debut against the Tigers. "I'm going to wait until there's guys in the different-colored uniforms that get into that batter's box," he said. "That'll be a milestone for him."
He might throw one more live batting-practice session before competing in a game for the first time since Aug. 24, 2013.
Harvey's goal? "Just try and continue what I did today," he said. "Obviously, it will be an exciting day, facing another team."
Notes & quotes: Kirk Nieuwenhuis figures to have a slight edge over Matt den Dekker in the competition for a spot on the bench, but Collins said it still is possible that den Dekker will prevail. "We've got to go with the best 25," he said. Nieuwenhuis is out of options, meaning he can't be sent down without being exposed to waivers.