NEW YORK -- Pardon the first impression. Prized rookie Matt Harvey fell behind after just three batters in his first home start Friday, but the youngster found a way to return to form. Harvey, making his fourth career start for the Mets, was wild early but efficient late in a 4-0 loss to the Braves.
"Hopefully, he got a lot out of this game," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "He's got all the talent he needs to compete up here. All he's got to do is make pitches."
The adversity started early for Harvey, who engaged in a protracted battle with leadoff man Michael Bourn that resulted in a walk. Harvey came back to get an out, but Jason Heyward -- who just turned 23 on Thursday -- powered Atlanta (65-47) ahead with a two-run drive to right-center field.
Harvey, the seventh overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, worked his way out of the first inning without any further damage. But he needed 33 pitches to get through the first and 19 more for the second, putting his chances of reaching the fifth inning and beyond into instant jeopardy.
"Early on, I was coming out and walking five guys in the first three innings. That's the last thing you want to do," said Harvey. "You never want to come out and give up two runs in the first inning and throw 30-something pitches either.
"I did everything I could to figure it out as quick as possible, and I was fortunate enough to keep the team in some sort of winning distance. But like I've said in the past, I don't like to lose and I don't like to give up runs. Tonight, I didn't do my job very well."
That's one way of looking at it, but there's also the flip side. Harvey came into a difficult situation against one of the league's playoff contenders and didn't look out of place. The 23-year-old even got hit by a line drive in the thigh at one point, but he said that made him angry more than anything else.
And to his credit, Harvey (1-3) never let the game get away. The right-hander threw another 16 pitches in the third, but after allowing a leadoff double in the fourth, he retired nine straight batters. Harvey needed just 21 pitches to escape the fourth and fifth, and he threw 12 more in a scoreless sixth.
Harvey, all things considered, was fairly effective. He gave up just two hits -- the Heyward homer and a double by catcher David Ross -- and didn't walk anyone after the third inning. Harvey kept his team in the game, but Atlanta later pulled further ahead on an eighth-inning homer by Dan Uggla off Josh Edgin.
"I've got work to do this week," said Harvey. "For my next outing, I'm going to try and go out and walk nobody. There are positives that I've taken from today, but obviously, there's a lot of negatives."
While Harvey -- who registered a 7-5 record and a 3.68 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo prior to his promotion -- was focused on the negative parts of the evening, his manager was more upbeat.
"I was very impressed with the fact that after he battled through the first two innings, he really settled down and started just making pitches," said Collins. "It looked like he relaxed a little bit and just settled into a nice, easy groove. I was very impressed, especially after the second inning."
And he wasn't alone. Catcher Rob Johnson, who delivered one of the Mets' three hits, said that he was pleased with the way Harvey kept plugging away despite his problematic start.
"What did he give up -- two or three hits?" asked Johnson, who has been behind the plate for three of Harvey's four starts. "He gave up the homer to Heyward that he yanked down the middle, but I thought he threw the ball pretty well. Obviously, we gave up the two home runs that led to their four runs, but I just felt like [Matt] was just missing a little bit. It wasn't huge misses to me behind the plate. He was just missing two or three inches off the plate. These guys were patient enough to not swing."
Paul Maholm, making his second start for the Braves, never really let the Mets (54-59) get comfortable. The Mets ended potential rallies in the first and second innings by hitting into a double play, and they weren't able to push a runner to scoring position until a Johnson double in the sixth.
The Mets were 43-36 at the end of June -- in second place and 2 1/2 games out of first -- but a 7-18 record in July and a 4-5 mark in August has sent them 16 games behind first-place Washington. Atlanta, which owns second place in the division and the lead in the Wild Card race, improved to 11 1/2 games ahead of the Mets.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the Mets are getting a good look at the future. Harvey is the 10th first-round selection to be picked by the Mets and graduate to the big league starting rotation, and the club has reason to believe that he'll keep improving and fitting into its future core.
"The arm strength is there to be very, very good," said Colins. "The breaking ball is there, the changeup is there, the slider is a good pitch. He has four quality pitches. Now it's about using them effectively and trusting his stuff and not being afraid to give up a two-run homer and still ... keeping your team in the game. It's exactly what he did [tonight]. His makeup is off the charts."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.