Harvey savors first chance to close game for Nats

LOS ANGELES – As the eighth inning became the ninth inning Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the Nationals suddenly holding a 4-3 lead following Luis García’s dramatic home run, Hunter Harvey looked around the bullpen and tried to figure out who was about to be told to start warming up.

With Kyle Finnegan and Carl Edwards Jr. both unavailable after pitching the previous two nights, Harvey’s attention immediately turned to Steve Cishek, the 36-year-old veteran with 133 saves on his big league resume.

“I was about 100 percent sure it was going to be Cishek,” Harvey said this morning. “That was my guess. He’s been around for 11 years. He’s got a bunch of saves. I was sure he was going to be the guy. So when they called down and said it was going to be me … it’s kind of crazy to even think I’m even getting this opportunity.”

Harvey indeed was manager Davey Martinez’s choice to close the game. The 27-year-old right-hander’s heart started racing at the thought of entering for his first major league save opportunity, before a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, of all places.

And though the Nationals lineup actually took the save opportunity away by tacking on four runs in the top of the ninth to extend the lead to 8-3, Harvey’s experience wasn’t diminished in the least. He retired the side, getting Mookie Betts to ground to third for the final out of one the team’s biggest wins of this otherwise dismal season.

“Even after they scored all the runs, I was like: 'Well, it’s still the ninth inning,'” he said. “It’s still pretty cool.”

Especially cool because of Harvey’s path to get to this point, not to mention his family history. A first-round pick of the Orioles in 2013, he’s always been touted as a future big league closer but has never been able to stay healthy long enough to ascend to the position.

That includes his first season with the Nationals, in which Harvey completed four scoreless appearances in April before landing on the injured list with a pronator strain near his elbow. He was sidelined for 2 1/2 months before finally returning just prior to the All-Star break. He has given up runs in two of his six outings since then, but feels physically healthy and excelled pitching back-to-back nights in this series.

“I don’t feel like I can do enough,” he said of his maintenance routine to try to keep himself in shape. “Every day I’m in there trying to get stuff done, just to be able to bounce back. And right now, bouncing back has been awesome. I feel really good coming back every day. I haven’t been sore yet. So knock on wood, we’re going to try to keep it that way.”

After Tuesday’s game, Martinez noted how cool it was for him to see Harvey closing out a game three decades after he used to watch his father, Bryan Harvey, closing out games for the Angels and Marlins.

Bryan Harvey, who notched 177 saves from 1988-94, was just as excited watching late at night from his home in North Carolina.

“Me and my dad talked the last couple years about possibly getting my first save opportunity and doing what he had done,” Hunter Harvey said. “When I called him last night, he said he was a nervous wreck when he found out I was coming in the game with a one-run lead.”

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