PLAYER REVIEW: HUNTER HARVEY
Age on opening day 2023: 28
How acquired: Claimed off waivers from Giants, March 2022
MLB service time: 3 years, 47 days
2022 salary: $700,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2026
2022 stats: 2-1, 2.52 ERA, 38 G, 0 SV, 39 1/3 IP, 33 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 1 HR, 12 BB, 45 SO, 0 HBP, 1.144 WHIP, 156 ERA+, 2.07 FIP, 1.0 fWAR, 1.0 bWAR
Quotable: “I’ve enjoyed it here. I like all the guys. I like the coaches. It’s not far from home. All around, it’s been great. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.” – Hunter Harvey
2022 analysis: Another late-spring acquisition after he had spent most of camp in Arizona with the Giants, Hunter Harvey wasn’t ready to begin the season in the majors. But he arrived within two weeks and looked really impressive in four April appearances before a longstanding obstacle to the right-hander’s career reared its ugly head again: injury.
Harvey would miss nearly three months with a pronator strain in his elbow, merely the latest in a string of injuries that plagued him going all the way back to his days coming up through the Orioles system. This time, though, he came back strong and kept himself healthy the rest of the way.
With 34 appearances over the Nationals’ final 74 games, Harvey not only stayed healthy, he proved he could be an effective (often dominant) reliever at the big league level for a prolonged stretch for the first time in his career. His fastball averaged 98.3 mph and consistently reached 100 mph, and his 66 percent strike percentage exceeded the major league average.
By season’s end, Davey Martinez was using Harvey in mostly high-leverage spots. That usually came later in games, setting up Kyle Finnegan. But Martinez also summoned Harvey out of the bullpen to get out of a jam in the fifth or sixth inning, if needed, and watched him mow down the heart of opposing lineups.
2023 outlook: The Nationals always knew Harvey had an electric arm and the ability to grow into an elite, late-inning reliever, if only he could stay healthy. History suggested that wasn’t likely, but Harvey took a significant step last winter to give himself a better chance to stay on the mound. Recognizing his across-the-body throwing mechanics were contributing to his injuries, he revamped his motion (with help from his father, former Marlins and Angels closer Bryan Harvey) and began throwing on a straighter line toward the plate.
The positive results were obvious to Harvey, who not only noticed more consistent command with his off-speed pitches but didn’t feel nearly the strain on his arm he used to. In the past, he said, he hardly ever felt strong enough to pitch back-to-back days. This year, that wasn’t an issue at all, and sure enough he pitched a scoreless inning in each of the eight instances when he went back-to-back days, allowing only three baserunners while striking out 10.
Though there will always be doubts about his ability to stay healthy, Harvey’s tweak and subsequent success this season should give the Nationals reason to believe he has turned a real corner in his career and can become a long-term part of their bullpen. Due to reach arbitration for the first time and command a salary around $1 million, he should find himself entering the 2023 season once again holding a prominent role on the staff and perhaps could eventually become the closer his father once was and he always believed he could be as well.