Checking in with Hunter Harvey and other notes from O's minor league camp

SARASOTA, Fla. - Pitcher Hunter Harvey, the Orioles' first-round draft pick last June, now has one exhibition game outing in the books.

The 19-year-old right-hander pitched two innings on Thursday against Tampa Bay. He threw 40 pitches and gave up one run and had three strikeouts.

"It felt good to throw to hitters and get back to a live game," Harvey said. "They've said I may add an inning every outing and I will probably throw three innings on Tuesday."

Harvey went 0-1 with a 1.78 ERA over eight starts between the Gulf Coast League and short-season Single-A Aberdeen last summer after the draft. If you count five no-hit innings Harvey pitched in a New York-Penn League playoff game on Sept. 7 for Aberdeen, he gave up 21 hits with six walks and 40 strikeouts over 30 1/3 innings.

Harvey said he has not been told yet which affiliate he will pitch for, but he is expected to open the season in Single-A Delmarva's rotation.

With an excellent curveball and a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, Harvey now will look to improve his changeup. It's a pitch he didn't throw in high school.

"Coaches have felt I've improved it a lot from last year, so I'm happy so far," Harvey said. "It's still a work in progress. Just right now I'm getting comfortable throwing it. I've never thrown it. Right now it's just working on when to throw it, but I still have to do what I have to do to get outs."

After pitching some dominant outings last year, Harvey knows it will get tougher this season as he plays for a full season team for the first time and will face better hitters than he did a season ago.

"I love having a challenge. That is what drives me really, trying to beat people every time I get on the mound," Harvey said.

Two O's affiliate general managers were visitors to minor league camp on Friday as Triple-A Norfolk Tides general manager Joe Gregory and Chris Bitters of the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds took in some action at Twin Lakes Park.

Gregory provided an update on the improvements made over the winter at Norfolk's Harbor Park. A completely new field was installed with new natural grass turf and infield dirt. Also the fences were moved in about 10 feet from center field around to the power alleys. The park has always been one where homers are tough to come by.

"It's looking great now that the weather broke and it gives us a chance to get on the field more and put the final touches on things," Gregory said. "We have all new turf and it looks good and we changed the infield material to be closer to the makeup of Camden Yards.

"There is a little different feel now. Interested to see how it's going to play. I still think it will be a bit of a pitchers' park with the wind coming off the Elizabeth river there."

The Tides will welcome the Orioles to Harbor Park for an exhibition game on March 29 at 3:05 p.m.

"It's a great chance to expose our fans to the big league product," Gregory said. "Our market is, I believe, the largest market not to have a major league franchise. Happy to have a partner like Baltimore that is willing to come and play.

"So far ticket sales have gone real well. This is the first time we've played on a weekend, usually it's a weekday game. As long as the weather cooperates, I'm fully expecting it to be a sellout."

CAM00045.jpgOn the field this afternoon at Twin Lakes Park, knuckleballer Zach Clark made his first spring start, pitching two innings against Boston for the O's Single-A Frederick team.

Clark was actually scheduled to start for the Triple-A team, but Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is in town to work with the O's three knuckleball pitchers in the minors so Clark pitched for Frederick today as Niekro watched intently behind the backstop. (In this picture, Niekro, in the red, talks with Clark after his outing).

Clark pitched a 1-2-3 first inning and gave up one run on a pair of singles in the top of the second.

"It was good," he said of his outing. "Good to face hitters and just trying to work on stuff Phil and I were talking about in the bullpen and throw a lot of strikes."

Clark said Niekro was working with him to stay on line to the plate more. If something was off with his mechanics in the past throwing a fastball he could resolve it in a game, but it's tougher when something is off even a little with a knuckleball delivery.

"I have tendencies with my conventional pitches that are not an issue, but when you throw the knuckleball and you come out of the delivery a little bit, the ball takes off or doesn't do what you want."

Niekro is in Sarasota through Monday to work with Clark, Eddie Gamboa and Zach Staniewicz.

"It's awesome (to work with him)," Clark said. "He won 318 games. The guy has thrown knuckleballs his whole life and I just started. I can learn a lot from him."

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