CHICAGO -- At his peak, Matt Harvey was the brashest of New York City athletes, a supernova with a superhero nickname. Harvey dominated hitters. He transformed the five boroughs into his personal playpen. He dripped confidence.
Harvey was a husk of that personality late Wednesday evening, speaking quietly as his teammates dressed and ate in a cramped Wrigley Field clubhouse. Hours after serving up five runs to the Cubs in 3 1/3 innings of a 17-5 loss, Harvey stamped out any last flickering embers of his old self.
For once, he did not sugarcoat his performance. He did not point to a single positive. He cut off reporters and cut short answers. He said over and over again that he felt only frustration.
"It's kind of hard to take any positives out of the last two years," Harvey said. "It's extremely frustrating. It's hard going out there and not doing what I can to help this team win. All in all, it's just extremely frustrating. That's really all you can say about tonight."
Incrementally, at least, Harvey did show some improvement in defeat. His velocity was up a tick at Wrigley Field, resulting in more soft contact than usual. Despite the end result -- which included seven hits allowed and four walks -- Harvey looked a bit more like the pitcher the Mets once knew, the pitcher they are desperate for him to be again. He even drove in his first run of the season on a safety squeeze in the second.
But incremental improvement is not enough for Harvey following two arm surgeries, multiple letdowns and a much-publicized tumble from fame. If Harvey is to be a successful rotation piece for the Mets next summer, he must progress by leaps and bounds.
Instead, Harvey owns a 12.19 ERA in three starts since his return, and a 5.45 mark the past two seasons. His career record is 34-33.
"It's been very hard, a very tough year, a very tough two years," Harvey said. "There's a lot of work going in that's not paying off, and it's becoming very frustrating for me."
Even if Harvey performs well over his final three starts, the Mets will consider him an unknown quantity heading into this winter, when they expect to add a veteran starting pitcher to their staff. The team, quite simply, cannot count on Harvey, who has never been the same since throwing 216 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery -- which coincided with the Mets' World Series run -- in 2015.
The following summer, Harvey underwent surgery to remove a rib, eliminating symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome -- including numbness and tingling in his throwing hand. His rehab from that operation resulted in right shoulder weakness, which cost him nearly three full months of this summer. And it is clear that Harvey is still a shell of his former self.
"He's frustrated, I don't think there's any question," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I think you set the bar as high as he has … it's going to be hard. It's going to be tough. But he can handle it. He's a tough kid. Nobody knows what the road back was going to be like. There's no real set experience with a lot of guys that have had this. Especially when you were as powerful as he was, to try to come back from this is going to take a little bit of time."
Two starts ago, after giving up seven runs to the Astros, Harvey said he was "fully confident" that by the end of the season, he would find success. When asked Wednesday if he still felt that way, Harvey cut off both the question and a follow-up, saying: "I have to be better."
"I'm frustrated," Harvey said later in the interview. "There's nothing else to say about today's outing. It was terrible. I have to be better, and that's about it. That's all there is to say."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.