NEW YORK — On the day the New York Mets announced Matt Harvey will have his second major surgery in four years, Ron Darling brought up Tim Leary’s name.

“He had some of the best stuff I’ve seen,” said Darling, who joined the Mets in 1983, Leary’s second big league season.

Leary had great stuff. In part because of injuries, he didn’t have a great career.

Harvey still could.

What happened this week was another tough break, with Harvey learning he has thoracic outlet syndrome and will need surgery that will cost him the rest of this season. But season-ending is a long way from career-ending.

When I relayed what we know about Harvey’s condition to a friend who once worked as a major league athletic trainer, my friend predicted a strong recovery.

“I’d still draft him on my fantasy team for next year,” he said.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, said by phone that he regards this week’s developments as “positive” news.

“We finally know why Matt’s command has been off,” Boras said.

Thoracic outlet syndrome may not be that well known by average fans, but plenty of pitchers have had it, and plenty have come back from it. Boras said Harvey was diagnosed with the neurogenic form of the ailment, meaning the impingement in his shoulder affects the nerves rather than the blood flow.

That helps explain why Harvey can still throw a baseball 98 mph, as he did Monday against the Miami Marlins. It also explains why he often hasn’t been able to throw it where he wants, with a walk rate (2.4 per nine innings) that is up considerably from last season (1.8).

The nerve impingement made it hard for Harvey to find a consistent arm slot. By removing the rib that has pushed against the nerve, doctors will create more space for the nerve, and theoretically allow Harvey to get back to having a consistent delivery.

There are plenty of examples of pitchers who have come back strong from similar surgeries, starting with Kenny Rogers, who had it done at age 36 and made three more All-Star teams. Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter the year after he had the surgery.

But surgery is surgery, and this will be two big ones for Harvey, before he ever throws 200 innings in a major league season (he had Tommy John surgery in 2013). Any team looking to commit money to Harvey will know that. Clubs will also know the biggest risk factor for any pitcher is a history of getting hurt.

That’s all hugely significant for the Mets, because they won’t have Harvey for the rest of 2016 and probably don’t have him as a possible trade chip this coming winter. It’s hugely significant for Harvey, because he has less time to establish himself as dependable before free agency arrives after the 2018 season.

Back in July 2013, around the time Harvey was starting the All-Star Game and before the Tommy John surgery, he did an interview with David Amsden of Men’s Journal in which he talked about how big a star he was and wanted to be in New York.

“I could buy a place now, but I’ve gotta wait for that $200 million contract,” Harvey said then. “If I’m going to buy an apartment, it has to be the best apartment in the city.”

He didn’t get that $200 million contract then, and he’s not getting it right now, either. He could still get it in 2018, but teams don’t give deals like that to pitchers who can’t get through a season.

Forget the money for now, though, because this is about a lot more than money. This is about a pitcher who even opponents enjoy watching—a pitcher whose body once again has gotten in the way of him getting to the mound.

“It’s just not a good feeling,” said Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals right-hander who would have pitched against Harvey on Saturday night (and will now face Logan Verrett instead). “I want to beat the Mets and Matt Harvey. I want him out there.”

Scherzer said his heart aches for Harvey—a sentiment similar to the one Darling expressed Friday. Any of us can feel for a player who gets hurt, but those who have pitched in the big leagues understand the emotions better than we ever can.

“Matt has been to heights few have been,” Darling said. “But the only way to have a great career is to be able to sustain it. I have great compassion for him. I just hope he has better luck.

“He’s young, he loves to do something and he can’t do it.”

And that’s why when Mets manager Terry Collins described Harvey’s mood Friday as both disappointed and optimistic, I totally got it.

Based on what we know about his condition, he should be optimistic about a successful return. Based on two major surgeries in four years, he should be extremely disappointed and cautious as he views the future.

What happened this week doesn’t necessarily threaten what still could be a great career. But it sure does burden Harvey with another big obstacle to overcome.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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