BOSTON - The Orioles’ bullpen has drawn lots of unwanted attention this season with the constant shuttling of relievers and the overall lack of dependability that’s been a constant source of frustration to manager Brandon Hyde.
The insertion of former first-round pick Hunter Harvey tonight created a different kind of buzz.
The kid made it back to the majors and his debut could come at any moment. Hyde pretty much indicated as much prior to the game while sitting in the dugout for his media scrum.
This wasn’t going to be another two-day stop and return. It would happen, and most likely at Fenway Park.
And then it did.
Harvey worked a scoreless bottom of the eighth inning with a walk and two strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to the Red Sox, the eighth player to make his major league debut for the Orioles this season.
Hyde used three relievers behind Asher Wojciechowski and the Orioles (39-84) suffered their 11th loss in 12 games. They’ve been shut out seven times.
Harvey began to loosen his arm with an exercise band in the bottom of the seventh, walked to the mound and took the ball from bullpen coach John Wasdin, who jammed it into his glove. But he never threw, stepping away to watch as Paul Fry served up Rafael Devers’ two-run homer on an 0-2 pitch.
The Orioles have surrendered 253 homers, five short of the major league record.
The long-awaited opportunity came an inning later. The 22nd overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft induced a bouncer from J.D. Martinez on a 99 mph fastball. Andrew Benintendi drew a seven-pitch walk after falling behind 0-2 on a pair of 99 mph heaters. Christian Vázquez and Mitch Moreland struck out on fastballs at 99 and 98 mph, respectively.
“What did you think? Did you like it? I did,” Hyde said.
“It’s obviously electric stuff and to make his debut at Fenway Park and throw 100 mph and throwing strikes and just really attacking their hitters with, obviously, an electric fastball and good off-speed stuff, yeah, that was really fun to watch.
“Vázquez fouling off pitches, fouling off pitches and to be able to punch him out on a swing that wasn’t very comfortable, it looked like. You see their takes at 100 mph, it’s really firm. Nice to see that coming out of our ‘pen.”
Harvey threw 21 pitches, including 14 for strikes. He also got the ball from his first out after Hanser Alberto tossed it into the stands and someone retrieved it.
“I mean, it’s fun to watch young, exciting players get here and you see their tools,” Hyde said. “I take it back to ‘14, second half, when (Javier) Báez and (Jorge) Soler and Kyle Hendricks came up, it was like you couldn’t wait to watch them play. And Hunter Harvey is one of those guys who it’s going to be really fun to watch him come out of the bullpen. You can see a bright future there, so that’s why it’s really gratifying.”
Harvey didn’t exhibit any nerves on the mound or during his postgame media session. He hugged his father, former major league closer Bryan Harvey, on the field before heading inide.
Asked whether it was everything he imagined, Harvey replied, “Even more.”
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Everybody is asking, ‘How did it feel?’ After I got the first pitch out of the way, it was so much easier to breathe. It was fun.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s Fenway Park. Everybody dreams of playing in Fenway Park. It’s one of the older fields in baseball. It’s awesome.”
The walk from the bullpen to the mound allowed Harvey to replay his professional life in his head. Step by step.
“Everything, everything that’s slowed me up to this point,” he said. “All the injuries, all the negative stuff I had in my past, to overcome that and finally reach my dream has been awesome.”
Martinez took the first pitch, a 98 mph fastball, for a strike and was retired on four pitches.
“It’s a big-name guy, really good hitter,” Harvey said. “To be my first batter is kind of wild.”
Harvey began to doubt that he’d pitch as Shawn Armstrong began to throw. Harvey knew the Orioles wanted to give him a clean inning.
“I had a little bit go through my head, ‘Oh, maybe it’ll be tomorrow or the next day,’” he said. “I just sat there and hoped and it ended up working out.”
With his father taking in every pitch and trying to remain calm. A losing battle.
Who was more nervous?
“I was, for sure,” Bryan Harvey said. “My dad used to tell me this. He said, ‘I walked a hole in the floor last night.’ I said, ‘What were you nervous about? I’m the one pitching.’ But I know the feeling. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. But it was really fun and it was awesome.”
Getting to Boston required a long drive from North Carolina - about 12 1/2 hours with Hunter’s girlfriend, Summer.
“He called me last night at 10:30, and I was in Kinston, so I jumped in the car soon as our game was over,” Bryan said. “We drove to Baltimore, met Summer, and then me and her got in here at 11 o’clock this morning. We had a long night on the road, but it’s worth it.
“I told him today, I said, ‘You’re going to get to pitch on one of the mounds I pitched on.’ I got to pitch here and now he’s doing it. Pretty similar starts. I made my debut on a Saturday. I pitched the last inning. We were at home, so I pitched the ninth inning. He pitched the eighth inning. He struck out one more guy than I did, though.
“But my debut was against the Orioles. Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn and Ray Knight, so that’s the first four guys I faced in the Saturday Game of the Week.”
The father wondered if his son would get the chance. If all of the injuries and the elbow surgery were just too much.
“That was like a snowball rolling down the hill,” Bryan said. “After he got sent down out of spring training in ‘15, it was one thing after another. He’s battled through everything. Last year was a freak thing. There’s been a couple freak things in this. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. He’s battled back. He never gave up. He worked his butt off to get here. It’s happy now.”
Wojciechowski retired eight in a row heading into the fifth and recorded only one more out. He was charged with two runs in 4 1/3 innings and a 1-6-3 double play started by Miguel Castro with Martinez at the plate preventing more damage.
Brock Holt led off the fifth inning by homering on Wojciechowski’s first pitch and the Red Sox tacked on another run while the Orioles continued to search for one. Jackie Bradley Jr. tripled and scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead.
Castro began to warm after the triple.
The first inning for Wojciechowski included Mookie Betts’ leadoff double, a passed ball and a two-out walk to Martinez. Twenty-one pitches were thrown. No runs scored.
The second inning included Vázquez’s leadoff single and Holt’s one-out walk. Thirty pitches were thrown. No runs scored.
Only 12 pitches were needed in the third and fourth while Wojciechowski retired the side in order. Stevie Wilkerson made a leaping catch at the center field wall to deny Moreland.
Wojciechowski’s pitch count was 75 and Harvey’s only movement in the bullpen was sliding down a couple spots on the bench. The heaviest labor was carrying the candy-filled backpack, the task given to the reliever with the lowest amount of service time.
Hyde made the switch to Castro with Wojciechowski at 98 pitches. Xander Bogaerts’ single off the Green Monster, which moved Betts to third base, was the final straw.
“I threw a lot of pitches the first two innings,” Wojciechowski said. “I knew I really needed to get some quick outs. I just tried to focus on getting early contact and throwing good quality strikes.”
Harvey stood with his arms folded as Castro retired the side in order in the sixth. Wasdin walked over, clipboard in hand, for a brief chat and Fry started to throw.
The Orioles stranded two runners in the fourth after Eduardo Rodriguez walked Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar. Mancini led off the sixth with a double and was thrown out at third base on Anthony Santander’s grounder to short.
Mancini extended his club record by collecting an extra-base hit in his eighth straight game at Fenway Park. Harmon Killebrew and Carlos Beltrán share the major league record for visitors with nine.
Rodriguez left after 7 1/3 scoreless innings with only four hits allowed. Alberto and Mancini singled off Matt Barnes, but Santander and Renato Núñez struck out.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy pitch bad in person,” Hyde said of Rodriguez. “He’s just got four pitches he can, he really locates well, he’s got a really tough cutter, hit 95 in the seventh, so he’s got a little extra in the tank. And had a really good changeup tonight. We hit a ton of slow rollers to Devers because you can’t just sit on one pitch. He’s got the cutter that he cuts in on you and backdoors on you, and then the changeup, too. Just really pitched well.”
No one was going to upstage Harvey. Not where the Orioles were concerned.
“He’s got an electric arm,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s got the stuff. Nice for him to get out there and get his major league debut out of the way.
“I know that he’s been working hard the last couple years and battling through injuries, so him getting in there and getting his feet wet, it’s a big moment for him. Now he can move forward and continue to be a big leaguer and work to have a long career.”