WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The picture jumped into Bryan Harvey's mind so clearly it could be yesterday, although it's been 26 months since he last faced a major league hitter.
It was April 28, 1995. The place was San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Harvey remembers making two pitches to a left-handed hitter when he felt his elbow blow apart.
He wracked his brain Friday morning to identify the hitter.
"Left-handed first baseman for the Giants," Harvey said.
"J.R. Phillips?" someone offered.
"That's it," Harvey replied. "You can remember the last time you really turned one loose."
Attempting to resurrect a career that has been interrupted for three years by injuries, Harvey will pitch the ninth inning Sunday against his former club, the Marlins. While the outing won't settle anything in Braves manager Bobby Cox's mind, it's significant to the righthander.
"The last hurdle to get through is your mind telling you everything is healthy," Harvey said. "Unconsciously your mind will probably hold you back a little bit. You're scared to throw the baseball. It will take confidence and the only way to get confidence is going out to the mound again and again."
Harvey, among the game's best closers from 1989-93, suffered a torn ligament in his elbow against the Giants two years ago. He underwent "Tommy John" surgery during which doctors transplanted a tendon from his ankle into his elbow. He did not pitch last year and then signed a $500,000 contract with the Braves in December.
Starting with the early throwing program in Atlanta the first two weeks of February, Harvey has made steady progress in his rehabilitation. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone figures he's added two feet to his fastball in the last month and his signature pitch, a split-fingered fastball, is starting to dive again.
Said Mazzone, "There's nothing more to do right now except get out there and pitch."
Harvey, 33, says he'll be as jumpy as a new colt when he reaches the mound Sunday. He's not setting unrealistic expectations, knowing he has a month to convince the Braves he's healthy, but wants to feel comfortable with his velocity and effort.
"I definitely won't be out there throwing 93-94," Harvey said. "If I go out Sunday and throw 84-85 and don't pick up by the end of spring training, then it's time to find something else to do. I'm hoping as we go it gets better."
If Harvey returns, he will provide a huge boost to a bullpen missing two of its most effective relievers in Greg McMichael and Pedro Borbon. McMichael was traded to the Mets and Borbon is working through rehabilitation from the same surgery Harvey experienced. There was a time when the right-hander was the best there was at closing out a game, leading the American League with 46 saves in 1991 and collecting a total of 177 saves in seven seasons.
Now, all he wants is a chance to throw a baseball again with no fear.
"Usually when you come into spring training you haven't seen a hitter in three months," Harvey said. "For me, it's been a little longer than that."