More solid evidence that the Orioles have entered the modern age of pitching technology leads directly to veteran starter Matt Harvey, who chose them as a free agent based on their approach and the people put in charge.
What he believes is what they believe. What he did in the offseason, training at Baseball Performance Center in New Jersey, is what they endorse.
Meeting with the media this afternoon in a Zoom conference call, Harvey laid out the reasons why the Orioles were the right team at this stage of his career.
“I talked to my agent (Scott Boras) quite a bit about it and I think with kind of the training that I did last week, between using the TrackMan and using the cameras that they use now, it’s obviously something that they do here quite frequently,” Harvey said. “Chris Holt, he’s studied that very well and knows a lot about it and seemed like they knew what I was doing wrong in the last couple years where it as a good fit to kind of get me back to throwing the way I did before.
“The last couple years I’ve had trouble kind of getting back to that and just really searching, I guess you could say. And after talking to my agent, it just seemed like a good fit and a good opportunity to get things going in spring training and have an opportunity to get back to the big leagues.”
Harvey agreed to a minor league deal, the news breaking on Feb. 13, that pays $1 million if he’s on the club. If he wanted an opportunity to pitch and produce a bounceback season that made him a lot more attractive in next winter’s free agent market, he certainly came to the right place.
The Orioles swing the doors wide open for guys like Harvey.
Harvey, joining his fifth team since 2018, was the National League’s starting pitcher in the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field and placed fourth in Cy Young voting after posting a 2.27 ERA and 0.931 WHIP in 24 outings and averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He allowed only 0.4 home runs per nine frames.
“The Dark Knight” missed the 2014 season with the Mets after undergoing Tommy John surgery and went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.019 WHIP in 29 starts in 2015.
And then it was all downhill, with Harvey unable to apply the brakes.
Injuries were a prime culprit. There was the thoracic outlet syndrome that required surgery and cut short his 2016 season - the same procedure that reliever Nate Karns underwent in 2017 before signing with the Orioles - and a stress fracture in the scapula that limited him to 19 appearances in 2017.
The Angels signed Harvey to an $11 million contract in 2019, placed him on the disabled with a back strain and released him in July. He was 0-3 with an 11.57 ERA and 2.743 WHIP last year in seven games (four starts) with the Royals totaling 11 2/3 innings.
This is how a former All-Star Game starter and Cy Young contender winds up with a minor league deal.
This is where he wants to alter the course of his career. Finding a team that syncs with his workouts and philosophies.
“You get used to not really having to pay attention to that stuff,” Harvey said. “I think the first couple years I threw so well that it just came easy, came natural, and after having some struggles over the last couple years it kind of changed my mind to, I guess, opening up more to what I could do to change things or get back to where they were.
“I kept going out there and feeling like there was just a small thing missing in my mechanics, and when you go out there feeling that way, you’re kind of in an uphill battle to begin with, which is how I felt the last couple years. More fighting myself than fighting anything. I think me committing to go see those guys in south Jersey and, I guess, start over and really open my ears to any option or opinion on what I could do was a big help.
“I told the guys here, ‘Whatever you think mechanically could help me, whatever you believe needs to be done in order to get me back, I know it’s in there.’ It’s been frustrating because I know it’s there. I haven’t had that click moment where I feel like, all right, there it was. That’s the old me, that’s who I think I can be. Hopefully we can find that as soon as we possibly can. And I think when I did that work in Jersey it was definitely heading in the right direction.”
Harvey didn’t have much communication with the Orioles prior to signing. It was more one-on-one conversations with Boras about “what they were about and what I might expect when I got here,” he said.
The talks kept taking Harvey back to the data-driven approach. The high-tech cameras. The things he was exposed to for three days at Baseball Performance Center, leaving his Florida home and withstanding the cold in order to thaw his career.
“After going and realizing what I was doing numbers-wise the last couple years, obviously it’s been there with other teams that I’ve played with,” he said. “I’d say I didn’t really open up to the fact that my numbers kind of sucked, so I think a humbling experience to go up to the facility in New Jersey and kind of get numbers from, whether it was high school kids that are working out there are throwing, maybe not as hard, but better numbers than I am and realize that, all right, I need to take a step back and figure out how to improve things.
“Obviously I’ve been through a lot. I’ve pitched in a lot of different game situations, playoff games, and had some success, World Series. And I think once I get those mechanics back and numbers back, the experience I do have is going to kind of get me back to being a successful pitcher that I know I can be.”
Harvey played catch yesterday, spoke with manager Brandon Hyde and prepared for today’s bullpen session.
“I don’t know him real well yet, so I don’t want to speculate on how he’s feeling, but he hasn’t had the results he’s wanted the last few years,” Hyde said. “I saw him in ‘15 in the (National League) Championship Series when he was throwing 100 in (cold) weather and we had no shot. It was incredibly dominating. And then I saw him when he was in Cincinnati in ‘18. That second half we were impressed. His fastball was back up, he was throwing back in the 95-96, topping out there with good stuff. He gave us fits.
“What’s happened to him the last couple years, I don’t know, and I will dive into that with him once I get to know him. But I’m just looking forward to watching him. I know he’s appreciative of the opportunity. He seems like a great guy and hoping for the best.”
Harvey was the latest veteran pitcher signed to a minor league deal, following Wade LeBlanc and Félix Hernández. A dash of experience for a rebuild recipe that still relies on the development of the young starters.
“I think it’s awesome,” Harvey said. “I’ve only been here a couple days and really don’t know many of the guys, so I think feeling like it’s almost a start-over point and getting to know the young guys and getting to know Félix and just be around him every day, it’s awesome to see. Watching the bullpens yesterday and seeing the arms that we have, it’s pretty impressive. So I’m obviously happy to be here and be a part of that and any way I can contribute and give help to the younger guys, just be around.
“I’ve told everybody whatever they need, whatever they want to ask, I’m all theirs and up for whatever. Like I said, I’m just extremely happy to be here.”
Harvey is willing to step into the bullpen if there are no jobs left in the rotation.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Obviously my beliefs in what I can do is as a starter. I trained for that this offseason, I’ve kind of done that my whole life. Obviously, I did a little bit in Kansas City last year, coming out of the ‘pen. That took some getting used to, but I felt like the last outing before I had the little injury, it was kind of going in the right direction, so whatever they need, it’s completely up to them and it’s my job to get guys out and do whatever is called upon.”
Competing for a roster spot isn’t new to Harvey, though he has to go back a ways to really feel like he’s experiencing déjà vu.
“I still remember, it wasn’t that long ago when I was with the Mets and trying to make the team with Terry Collins, so I remember those days, although it was 11 years ago,” Harvey said. “I think it’s a good thing, I think it’s fun to be in that position. I think it gets a little fire going. Obviously, it’s a tough situation to be in in your 11th spring training and however many years I have in the big leagues to feel like you need to impress people again, but that’s where we’re at and I’m enjoying.
“I’m enjoying the challenge and it’s going to create a little fire, so it’ll be good.”
Those years have taught Harvey some valuable lessons on and off the field.
“When you’re younger and you haven’t had any injuries or things come easy, for me anyway, I didn’t really pay attention to mechanics all that much,” he said. “I didn’t have to. It was something that came naturally. Now as I’m getting older and becoming more understanding of my body and the pitching mechanics and what needs to go in in order to maintain flexibility, strength and all that, I’ve definitely learned a lot. Over the years of kind of bouncing around from team to team, it’s been an interesting ride, but I think the whole thing is not giving up and pushing forward and keeping my ears open to options and opinions of other people - pitching coaches, of trainers, different staff.
“I’m not saying I didn’t do that before. I think now it’s definitely more of something I pay attention to and really keep my ears open to anything that’s going to help me get better and help the team win.”
As Harvey attempts to change his recent pitching reputation, he’s assisting in altering how the Orioles have been viewed within the industry.
“I think it’s a huge plus,” Hyde said. “Our guys have positive track records with pitching and with getting pitchers better. You saw what Holty did with the minor league system, how much our minor league system improved. Even in that first year. Obviously, Sig (Mejdal) bringing over his analytic expertise and a lot of the people that he’s hired that dive into it, he has great info and we have great people working on our analytic team, so I think it’s great to hear that players want to play here. I’m hoping that continues.”
Note: Every player has reported on time, but Chris Davis remains in the intake process and might be a day behind in workouts. He was traveling from Dallas, with the weather impacting his arrival.
Davis took his physical today.