The initial attempts to fix Matt Harvey couldn’t begin until the people running the facility in Pleasantville, N.J., trusted that he was willing to surrender to their methods. To the technology that he hadn’t been exposed to and didn’t really need in his dominant years.
Ed Charlton and Mike Adams, co-owners of Baseball Performance Center, didn’t need much convincing. Any doubts about Harvey’s commitment evaporated in one brief exchange.
“He came in and we didn’t really know what to expect,” Charlton said this week. “We were hoping he was going to be pretty open because he was willing to come up from Miami and take a chance. So you get the inkling that he’s going to be pretty open to stuff.
“My partner, who did most of the work with him, asked Matt when he got there, ‘What do you want to do?’ And he goes, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And right there you kind of knew there was going to be some buy in. It’s not an easy fix, but you knew it was going to be easy to work with him.”
The three days that Harvey spent working at the lab transpired earlier this month, before the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal that pays $1 million if he’s on the team.
“He came up on Monday night, came into the facility and pretty much had the facility to himself,” Charlton said. “We talked to him about what the plan was going to be for the next three days and then assess him physically with our PT (Ryan Buccafurni) that works with us and then go from there and explain the direction that we’re going to be going to get him back to what he was.
“The two biggest things were, one, getting his fastball to have the carry that it used to have when he was dominant, and over the last couple years when he bounced around from team to team, his fastball had lost that carry and it had more run to it, like a two-seamer. And over that period of time, he never even threw a two-seam fastball. He was throwing four-seamers that were getting tagged as two-seamers because they had the movement profile. So pretty much getting him to get that spin back on the ball that allowed him to carry it through the zone and get a lot of swing and misses.
“And then the second thing was just mechanics, getting him back to moving better like he used to. He can do it, it’s just, nobody had really told him that before.”
There’s no magical cure for a pitcher whose star faded over time. The steep drop from All-Star Game starter with the Mets in 2013 and gatherer of Cy Young votes to reclamation project, with Harvey joining his fifth organization since 2018.
Harvey arrived from Miami and entered baseball’s technological world, with its high-speed cameras and slow-motion video, biomechanics, pitch design and measurement solutions.
“He was definitely starting to understand how he needed to move, which it’s pretty crazy to think nobody ever really told him this stuff before. How he needed to move to throw harder, because the velocity is there,” Charlton said.
“It’s not like his fastball is gone. Last year he was throwing 93-97 mph. So the velocity is still there, and even with sub-optimal mechanics. His mechanics could have been better and he was still throwing that hard, so getting him to understand that and feel what it needs to feel like to get it back to that. And his bullpen that he threw on Wednesday before he left, watching him start to spin the ball the way he used to.
“For him to get that ride, he needs to throw with a little bit of cut-spin, which is kind of crazy, but he started to get that back. And at the same time, also figured out that he could throw a power sinker. When he throws a two-seam, he can make it move horizontally 19 inches, which is insane. That’s a legitimate power sinker. And the velocity was the same as the four-seamer. So he figured out he could throw a different pitch that he never even threw before, with a plus-movement profile.”
Harvey’s next professional move carried him to the Orioles less than a week after he returned home.
“It was pretty much wide open when he was here,” Charlton said. “A few teams got involved, the Orioles being one of them. It was pretty cool to see how fast everything happened.
“Getting with an organization now like the Orioles that’s getting a little more forward with data and Rapsodo and TrackMan and how to utilize the numbers will play a huge role in it because he can keep moving forward with the progress he made.”
One of BPC’s clients is 6-foot-10 Dodgers pitching prospect Nolan Long, a longtime friend of Harvey’s.
The smattering of major leaguers includes Royals catcher Nick Dini, who debuted in 2019; Phillies outfielder and former first-round pick Mickey Moniak; and pitcher Brett Kennedy, who went 10-0 with a 2.72 ERA in 2018 in 16 starts with Triple-A El Paso in the Padres system and made his debut in August.
A lat strain limited him to one minor league appearance in 2019 and the Padres outrighted him.
“Just trying to get him back to where he was,” Charlton said. “Right now, he’s actually back to better than where he was. He’s just got to get a shot.
“There’s a lot of talent that rolls in there, even the high school guys. One (Chase Petty) throws bullpens 97-100 mph and could be a first-rounder. And a pretty easy 97-100 is eye opening, I think.”
Maybe not as much as having Harvey in the building.
“In the facility we’ve got quite a few pro guys, a couple big leaguers,” Charlton said. “It’s not like the first time we’ve dealt with it, but it’s definitely the first time we’ve dealt with somebody as high profile as him. It was really cool to see how he was pretty much open to whatever.
“He was awesome. We didn’t know what to expect. You obviously hear back when he was in New York, The Dark Knight, in the tabloids all the time, but you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt sometimes. As a 23-year-old pitcher, he came up in New York, was dubbed the ace of the staff, The Dark Knight. He could have done whatever he wanted. He was going out to dinner and he was in the tabloids. You don’t want to just think of them as that.
“He was awesome the whole time. The first night he came in, we went out and had some food. And then the next night he took us out to an awesome steak dinner and we just talked baseball the whole time. He was great.”
Charlton remains a scout with the Brewers, but Adams had to give it up after the right-hander and former Wagner College standout signed last month with the Phillies. He impressed at a tryout, with his fastball clocked at 98 mph.
The work with Harvey is done. Now it’s up to him to carry those lessons to Sarasota, Fla., and seize a rotation or bullpen spot with the Orioles.