WASHINGTON — Matt Harvey was rarin' to go in his return from Tommy John surgery, right down to the knobs of his bats labeled with his nickname in all caps: DARK KNIGHT.
A little more than two hours before throwing a pitch that mattered for the first time in nearly 20 months, the New York Mets' right-hander pierced the silence of the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park with the strains of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" via a portable stereo.
Boy, was he back.
Dynamic right from the 96 mph called strike he began with, Harvey struck out nine across six scoreless innings to outpitch Stephen Strasburg in the Mets' 6-3 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday.
"I don't know if I could draw it up any better," the 26-year-old Harvey said.
He hadn't appeared in a regular-season game since allowing a career-high 13 hits against Detroit on Aug. 24, 2013; the ligament-replacement operation on his right elbow came that October.
"It's been long," he said.
For stretches against Washington, it was as if Harvey never left. He powered fastballs and mixed in sharp breaking balls, and Nationals manager Matt Williams praised his "feel."
"I've said it a million times: He's going to be Cy Young one day, and everybody knows that," said Bryce Harper, who struck out three times against Harvey, each time whiffing on high heat.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond's appraisal: "Pretty much the same old stuff."
Harvey (1-0) gave up four hits and one walk, throwing 63 of 91 pitches for strikes.
"When you've got a No. 1 guy that you can run out there and you know that, hey, we give him two to three runs a game and he's going to win 20 games — we got that animal," New York manager Terry Collins said. "He's going to change the dynamic of what our club is all about."
With the temperature at 47 degrees and gray clouds overhead, Harvey faced a lineup missing three players on the disabled list (Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span). The reigning NL East champs scored a total of six runs while losing two of three games to New York.
The Mets went 15-41 against Washington the past three seasons.
"A great series win," said David Wright, whose two-run single in the sixth chased Strasburg, "coming into D.C. against a team that we struggled against the last couple of years."
Strasburg (0-1) had the increasingly common Tommy John procedure in 2010, then was famously shut down before the playoffs in 2012, his first full season back. Last year, Strasburg tied for the NL lead in strikeouts.
Pushed back to third in Washington's rotation after three consecutive opening-day starts, he allowed six runs — three earned — and nine singles in 5 1-3 innings.
"They didn't square me up," Strasburg said. "I don't remember anybody hitting a double off me."
Wright's potential double-play grounder in the Mets' four-run third took a hop and went off Desmond's wrist for his third error this season. He's had defensive problems in April before, with eight errors in 2014, and seven in 2013. "The object is to field the ball that's rolling to you. I wasn't able to convert," Desmond said.
Mets: Before the game, Collins made a passing reference to a 190-inning limit for Harvey this season. ... With closer Jenrry Mejia (elbow) on the DL, Collins used RHP Jeurys Familia in a non-save situation in the ninth because "he's got to get used to being out there."
Nationals: CF Span (core muscle surgery) and RHP Casey Janssen (right rotator cuff), are heading to Florida for rehab work.
Mets: Season-opening trip continues Friday at Atlanta, where New York LHP Jonathan Niese will start against Braves LHP Eric Stults. Niese has had trouble against Andrelton Simmons (.333 in 18 ABs) and Freddie Freeman (.270, 2 HRs, 2 2Bs, 7 RBIs in 37 ABs).
Nationals: Open a three-game series at Philadelphia on Friday, when LHP Gio Gonzalez will try to extend an unusual streak: He homered in his first game each of the last two seasons.
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