CINCINNATI -- The way Matt Harvey debuted earlier this year for the Mets, it seemed reasonable to fret about his imperfections. Harvey was effective but inefficient. He was electric but flawed.
So it was a relief for the Mets to watch Harvey dominate as he did in Thursday's 8-4 win over the Reds. With Jason Bay leading a rejiggered lineup in support of him, Harvey did not allow a hit until the fifth inning nor a run until the seventh, submitting by far his most efficient outing of the season against one of the National League's best offenses.
"Awesome," was how Harvey described the effort, saying he "absolutely" feels he has improved in the three weeks since making his debut.
"What you saw tonight was a little taste of what this guy's going to be able to do," manager Terry Collins said. "When he's got the command going like he did tonight, everything working, he's going to be tough to hit."
One of the knocks on Harvey throughout his introduction to the big leagues has been his inefficiency -- largely stemming from lapses in command. Though Harvey struck out 11 in an electric debut July 26 at Arizona, his high pitch count kept him from completing six innings that night. Not once in three ensuing starts did Harvey reach the seventh inning.
But partially because the Reds were so aggressive early in counts, particularly late in the game, Harvey shot through Thursday's first seven innings in 75 pitches. He threw 89 on the night, and could have gone longer had Collins not insisted on taking him out of the game on a high note; Harvey departed after putting two men on base with two outs in the eighth.
Though Bobby Parnell navigated the Mets out of that jam, victory did not come until Frank Francisco -- pitching through a steady rainstorm -- served up four hits, one walk and three runs in the ninth, retiring two of the seven batters he faced. Collins finally pulled his closer from the game with the winning run in the on-deck circle, turning to Jon Rauch for the game's final out.
"He was probably shaking," an animated Francisco joked of Harvey, who watched from the dugout as the late rally unfolded.
Before the game, the Mets seemed most concerned about their offense, which had mustered just 2.25 runs per game since returning from a successful West Coast trip. So Collins reconfigured his lineup, resting four regulars and penciling Bay onto the card.
It worked. Bay launched a first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall with one out in the sixth, collecting his first home run and first extra-base hit since July 18 -- a span of 80 plate appearances. He also rapped out an infield single earlier in the game against Bailey, who lasted 5 2/3 innings.
"I felt good before with no results," Bay said. "So to get a couple of results and provide that spark, hopefully [it's] that little flint that gets you going a little bit."
But the most meaningful hit of the game may have come from Harvey. After Bay singled and Kelly Shoppach walked in the fourth inning, Bailey -- in his words -- set a fastball "on a tee" for the rookie, who ripped a two-run double for his first two big league RBIs.
"I take pride in not being an easy out," said Harvey, who is now 3-for-9 on the season. "I like baseball's other parts, not just pitching. If I can do everything I can to try to be tough at the plate and help the team out that way, I'll do everything I can."
Even so, the Mets brought Harvey here to pitch, so they were certainly encouraged with what he did on Thursday. In his most efficient outing to date, the right-hander struck out eight to run his season total to 34 -- two fewer than Dwight Gooden racked up over his first five starts in 1984.
"You have to give a lot of credit to the young man over there," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He threw a heck of a game."
With less than 30 innings before he hits his team-imposed season limit, Harvey will only have so many more chances to impress the Mets this year. But if his next few starts look anything like this one, good impressions should not be a problem.
"It's only been five starts," Bay said. "But I think the good, so far, has outweighed the not-so-good. And I think that's something to really get people excited."