PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - This offseason, as Matt Harvey entered the homestretch of his rehab from Tommy John surgery, the Mets began figuring out just how much might be too much to ask from their ace.
The answer, though hardly scientific, has proved to be reassuring.
The Mets studied pitchers who returned to action roughly 16 to 18 months following surgery, just as Harvey is slated to do. The results have given the Mets confidence that the righthander should have no issues approaching the 200-inning mark, the upper range of what team officials have called a loose cap, thanks to his 171/2-month rehab.
Perhaps most importantly, the case studies offered encouraging signs that Harvey will continue adding to his workload in his second year back from surgery.
"We had hoped with the amount of time that he was off, he would be able to handle a decent amount of work,'' general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I think most of the research that we did supports that conclusion.''
Still, Alderson was careful to offer an important caveat.
"It's not science,'' he said.
Despite hundreds of incidents of Tommy John surgery, the Mets' research yielded roughly seven or eight comparables in terms of rehab time in recent years. That's hardly a sample size that would yield definitive findings.
Also, within that set, the Mets found no cases that offered an exact parallel to Harvey's. Nevertheless, Alderson said the research aided in creating some guidelines.
"We've looked back on that both in terms of quantity and volume of work as well as what's reasonable to expect [in performance] his first year back,'' Alderson said. "I think we were encouraged by the amount of innings that some of these guys were able to pitch.''
John Lackey provided one example used in the study. He pitched 2151/3 innings, including the postseason, for the world champion Red Sox in 2013, his first year after a 17-month rehab from surgery. Lackey bounced back with 211 innings last year in another postseason run for the Cardinals.
Harvey's rehab has gone smoothly, and he is scheduled to make his second Grapefruit League start Wednesday against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida. In his return to game action Friday, the 25-year-old touched 99 mph with his fastball.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen said Harvey is expected to throw 50 pitches Wednesday, which would be double the 25 in his first start. Warthen also said Harvey may throw more sliders, his most dominant breaking pitch. To this point, he had been discouraged from focusing on it because it's the pitch in his repertoire that puts the most strain on his elbow.
Of course, all of Harvey's spring work will be geared toward ensuring that he makes it unscathed through this season.
"We realize that 171/2 months is the optimal time, that's the best possible time,'' said Warthen, who added that pitchers might benefit from an even longer rehab. " . . . Because the guys who have waited for 171/2 months have been able to go 200 innings and not been hurt the next year, and have gone 200 the next year, and the next year.''
Although the research falls short of giving the Mets a template to follow, at least it has given them a bit more comfort as they begin the process of protecting their prized pitcher.
Said Alderson: "I think there's some general conclusions one can draw.''