NEW YORK — Travis d’Arnaud wore the crown Thursday night. More important for the New York Mets, Matt Harvey took a big step toward earning his comic book nickname.
Harvey tossed 6 2/3 strong innings in his first regular-season start since undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome as the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves 6-2 to win a season-opening, three-game series at Citi Field.
Harvey, who made his final start last season on July 4 and went under the knife two weeks later, allowed just two runs Thursday — both on solo homers by Matt Kemp. He gave up three hits and no walks while striking out four.
“Obviously, after the first start, you always want to end on a positive note,” Harvey said. “And I think that was a good first step.”
Harvey (1-0) lasted more than six innings just twice in 17 starts last season, when he posted a 4.86 ERA while pitching through chronic numbness in his pitching hand. Following the thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis, he underwent an operation in which a rib was removed to improve circulation to his arm.
“That’s fun, when you look up and you have a lead in the sixth, seventh inning and you’re still out there,” Harvey said. “That’s what you miss the most. Fortunately enough, I was able to do that. We’ve got to keep working and try to do that more often.”
Harvey’s mid-90s fastball and 90 mph slider were each a few ticks lower than his 2013 peak, when he earned the “Dark Knight of Gotham” moniker and started the All-Star Game for the National League. But impeccable command — Harvey threw first-pitch strikes to the first 11 batters he faced and got to a three-ball count just twice — strengthened his offerings Thursday night and kept the Braves off-balance.
“Surprisingly good for somebody who (was) off surgery,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He was just banging strike after strike after strike and changing speed and hitting with everything, too.”
The Braves’ first hit was a 30-foot infield single in the second inning by Nick Markakis, who swung early on a curveball. In the fifth inning, Adonis Garcia took a mighty swing and miss at an 83 mph changeup.
“This game is definitely about location, not velocity,” d’Arnaud said. “And the command he had today made it easy to mix and match sequences and get outs really quick.”
Kemp snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with his first homer, but d’Arnaud’s two-run double in the bottom of the inning put the Mets ahead for good. That earned d’Arnaud the crown — which looks a lot like a Burger King crown — given by captain David Wright to the Mets’ most valuable player in a game.
The Mets added on in the sixth, when Wilmer Flores wrapped a two-run homer around the left field foul pole, and seventh, when Asdrubal Cabrera delivered an RBI single and Jose Reyes scored the final run on a throwing error by Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Harvey was lifted immediately after giving up Kemp’s second homer, a monstrous shot that clanged off the left field pole.
“He followed the plan that certainly we talked about before the game, and that was he didn’t try to overthrow,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He used all his pitches. He commanded all his pitches. Everything we talked about earlier he executed tonight right to the end.”
Jerry Blevins got the final out of the seventh. Fernando Salas worked into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and Addison Reed threw a perfect ninth inning in a non-save situation.
Braves left-hander Jaime Garcia (0-1) took the loss after allowing four runs on six hits and two walks in his Atlanta debut. Garcia, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in December, also underwent surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in 2014.
“You know the way Harvey was going, any runs were probably too many tonight, because he was really, really good,” Snitker said.
Braves second baseman Brandon Phillips went 0-for-3 as his road hitting streak against the Mets ended at 35 games (10 games at Shea Stadium, 25 games at Citi Field). It was the longest hitting streak against an opponent in its home park since Joe Medwick hit in 46 straight games for the Cardinals against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field from 1933 to 1937.
NOTES: The Braves signed their long-time nemesis, 1B Ryan Howard, to a minor league contract Thursday. General manager John Coppolella said he hopes Howard, who spent his first 13 big-league seasons with the Phillies and collected 52 homers and 155 RBIs against the Braves, can serve as a power bat off the bench for Atlanta. Howard will report to extended spring training before being assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett. … Mets RHP Zack Wheeler is scheduled to make his first start in more than two years Friday, when he takes the mound against the Miami Marlins. Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and made just one minor league appearance last year.