Hunter Harvey: “I have to stay healthy”

The injury concerns will hover above Orioles reliever Hunter Harvey until he’s able to shoo them away. Until he can give the team a full, uninterrupted season and become the dominant high-leverage pitcher they’ve been envisioning since his transition from starter.

Harvey couldn’t avoid the injured list in 2020, failing to latch onto the opening day roster with muscular tightness in his right elbow. The journey from Tommy John surgery in 2016 has been fraught with detours and disappointments.

Restricted to only 10 appearances and 8 2/3 innings in a pandemic season, Harvey adjusted his offseason workouts with the help of assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes, who lives about an hour away in Asheville, N.C.

Harvey, 26, said he did “a little bit more throwing,” then clarified later that he doubled the amount.

“Really just trying to build my arm up and get the body used to possibly taking the ball back-to-back days - or two on, one off - and come back for another,” he said. “Really just trying to prepare for that and be ready for any role they throw at me.”

Holmes and Harvey stayed in contact with pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt and concentrated on “trying to get my arm on time more and being a bit more consistent with my off-speed,” Harvey said.

“We kind of cleaned up my arm path a little bit and my splitter has been, for me, I feel the best it’s ever felt since I started throwing it, so looking forward to how it’s going to play in games.”

Manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t decided how to use Harvey and whether the right-hander can function for longer stretches with shorter breaks between outings. Harvey didn’t pitch on consecutive days in 2019 and tried it once to close out the 2020 season in Buffalo.

“I think it’s individual when it comes to back-to-backs later in camp,” Hyde said. “That is going to be important going into a season with a 26-man roster. Guys that are able to maintain health and be able to be durable for us. That’s not something that I’m going to push in spring training with some. It’s something that maybe we’ll wait for the season to start and continue to monitor.

“Someone like Hunter, I just want him to be healthy, so if that means he does no back-to-backs in spring training and I wait until the season or we don’t do it during the season with him, I don’t know yet. But he’s going to be somebody we monitor closely. It’s going to be all individual in how we really ramp these bullpen guys up.”

Thumbnail image for Harvey-Follow-Through-Orange-Sidebar.jpgThe conditioning aspect with Harvey also has undergone some renovations, with Joe Hogarty and Ryo Naito sending programs that were slightly different.

“Other than that,” he said, “it was a lot of hunting.”

Harvey is aiming for a much better 2021 season in all facets - results and health - now that he’s eight years removed from being a first-round draft pick. He needs to become an established major leaguer and prove capable of handling a heavier workload.

He needs to live up to being Hunter Harvey.

The 2019 debut was tantalizing, with Harvey allowing only one run and striking out 11 batters in 6 1/3 innings after joining the team in the middle of August. He was shut down after Sept. 13 as a precaution because the innings were mounting and his arm was slower to recover.

“I think every season’s important, but once again, going into it, my main goal is the health thing, trying to stay healthy,” he said. “It’s by far been the biggest thing for me and been battling injuries for eight years, ever since I got drafted by the Orioles. So it’s a huge season, I have to stay healthy and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

“I think we all know how great an arm he has and how important he is to us,” Hyde said, “but like I’ve been saying for a couple years now, it’s really about him establishing health and being able to pitch for a full season. It’s just something he’s had a tough time with for lot of reasons over the course of his career. I know he’s ready, this is the best he’s ever felt and he’s coming to camp looking great, looking really strong.

“He’s a big piece for us. We really believe in him and his arm and his makeup. So, yeah, bottom line is just trying to keep him healthy.”

Harvey didn’t let the reduced number of innings caused by the late start to the season influence his winter routine. It was more about staying on the active roster.

“I didn’t really think about it a whole lot,” said Harvey, who allowed four earned runs and struck out only six batters in his 8 2/3 innings.

“As soon as we got to the offseason, I treated it just like if we had played a normal season and I threw a lot of innings. I took my same amount of time off and got right back into it and got my body ready and my arm ready to come into spring and try to pitch a full season healthy.”

And, he hopes, with fans allowed inside ballparks again.

“It was much different, but once you get out there and a big league hitter gets in like (Luke) Voit or any of those guys, it just turns right back on. You get the adrenaline, you get everything going,” Harvey said.

“I am looking forward to having people in the stands. Something about it, it gets you going, it fires you up, it gets the adrenaline going even more, so whatever we can get this year, we’ll take it. But I’m looking forward to people being back in the stands.”

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