TAMPA, Fla. -- The career arcs of Matt Harvey and Michael Pineda are remarkably similar. Both are 27, born within two months of one another in 1989. Both were sensations as rookies. Both suffered serious, and in Pineda's case, potentially career-ending arm injuries, early in their careers. Both have struggled trying to come back, Harvey from Tommy John surgery, Pineda from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Both are currently suffering through probably the worst stretch of performance at any level of baseball either has ever competed at.
But that is where the roads begin to diverge.
When Harvey hit his rough spot, he chose to handle it like a spoiled adolescent, hiding from the media and by extension, the long-suffering New York Mets fans who wanted so badly to see him as the second coming of Tom Seaver.
By contrast, Pineda -- no less puzzled and frustrated by his struggles than Harvey -- has chosen to stand up under the scrutiny rather than run from it, to answer the questions as best he can rather than duck them, and in a second language, no less. It is the difference between being an adult and being a child.
Neither can really help the other much with his pitching woes, because frankly, while everyone has a theory neither Pineda nor New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild truly seem to have a handle on exactly why a pitcher with the talent of Pineda can suddenly have so much trouble getting hitters out. And without having spent a moment at Citi Field this season, I can still guess that the situation is pretty similar over there.
But what Pineda can teach Harvey is how to behave under the relentless media pressure that comes with performing in New York.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, it really doesn't matter personally to me or most of my colleagues whether an athlete speaks to us or not. I like to think I can write the story a lot better than most of them can tell it to me, anyway, and frankly, there are very few athletes whose quotes add much to what you have already seen.
But an athlete who chooses to deal with professional adversity the way Harvey has reveals something about his own character, especially one who has tried to cultivate a tough-guy persona. What Harvey -- and especially, the fans who worship him and the media that covers him -- are seeing is how much easier it is to be a tough guy when things are going well, and how difficult it is to be truly tough when things go wrong.
Because, in fact, there is another word for someone who is a "tough guy" when things are going his way. The word is bully. And there is another word for a "tough guy" who disappears when things go wrong, although it is not fit for print in this particular forum.
It is up to Matt Harvey to decide which of those words applies to him.
But there is no doubt about the correct way to describe Michael Pineda during this prolonged period of struggle. He has been a mensch about it, never surly or intimidating in interviews, never hiding in the trainer's room or ducking tough questions. He has taken to using the Yankees' Spanish-language interpreter, Marlon Abreu, to help him in postgame interviews, but only to make sure he fully understands the questions and is answering them appropriately.
I realize stuff like this is not important to some fans, but to those who recognize that these are games played by flesh-and-blood people, without predetermined outcomes and subject to all the triumphs and failures a human being is capable of, it means as much as ERA, batting average and OPS.
Over his past 20 starts -- his last 10 of 2015 and his first 10 of 2016 -- Pineda has been a mostly terrible pitcher. After Saturday's 9-5 blowout, in which he surrendered six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings to the anemic Tampa Bay Rays, his record dropped to 2-6 and his ERA ballooned to 6.92, the highest of any starting pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. And it was not even his worst start of the season; that came back on April 24, also to the Rays, when he allowed seven earned runs, and four home runs, in five innings. His record for five starts in May is now 1-3, his ERA for the month 7.52.
And yet, there he was, within minutes of the opening of the Yankees' clubhouse, standing in front of his locker, probably not wanting to be there but willing to deal with any questions thrown at him. He was trying to keep a brave face on but it seemed clear from his eyes that he was not far from tears. And while he really didn't have any answers -- "It’s very frustrating for me to start the season this way. It has never happened to me before. I’m putting the team in a tough spot, but I have to keep working hard, keep my head up and get the job done," is about the most revealing thing he said -- he waited until every last question had been asked and answered.
Harvey has had an equally agonizing May, going 1-4 with a 7.56 ERA in five starts. His last one was four days ago, when he allowed five runs and three home runs in five innings to the Washington Nationals. He refused to talk to the media after that one, and has not spoken with it since, aided and abetted by the Mets, who have acted as his enablers throughout his entire career.
What they don't realize is they are not doing Harvey any favors, and he is not making himself any friends. And whatever image he had been trying to cultivates, as the "Dark Knight," is now nothing more than a punchline.
Both Pineda and Harvey are still young and talented enough to overcome their struggles to become effective, and perhaps even outstanding, major league pitchers once again.
But so far, only one of them has shown the makings of a quality individual, and it is a lesson the other one might be advised to study, and learn from.