Matt Harvey: “The hard work paid off”

Matt Harvey isn’t too old to appreciate a good joke. Especially the kind delivered at his expense and the punchline bringing smiles all around the room.

No one was happier than Harvey, who learned with a dash of humor that the Orioles selected his contract and put him on their 40-man roster for opening day.

Manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias decided to have a little fun with it.

“I come in pretty much every day and say ‘hi’ to everyone, been pretty upbeat with how I come in, and I came in (today) and they were kind of messing with me a little bit, pretending that they were a little upset and then possibly telling me some bad news. And then they switched their faces around and told me the good news,” Harvey said today in his Zoom call.

“It was pretty cool. It was definitely unexpected, but it was a special day, for sure.”

Thumbnail image for Camden-Yards-View-from-Behind-Plate-Sidebar.jpgHarvey turns 32 on Saturday. Now he has another reason to celebrate, finding out that his spring invite led to a job in the rotation.

“I think I said it to a couple guys, when you start an All-Star Game and then you pitch in the World Series, I think the last thing you ever think of is how excited you’ll be to make a team again,” Harvey said. “I’d like to say it was a good early birthday present, and it’s probably one of the best I’ve had, so I’m super excited. I’m very thankful that they saw the work that I put in and thought it was good enough to continue to get better and help the team out any way I can.”

The contract pays Harvey $1 million in the majors and the Orioles will value his experience and resurgence until perhaps finding a trade partner over the summer.

One step at a time.

Perhaps sealing the deal was Harvey’s last outing, when he allowed only a Gio Urshela solo home run in four innings.

“I gave it everything I had,” Harvey said. “I think from Day One coming in, I feel like things improved every single time out and whether it was bullpens or out in the games, things just got better and better. I definitely worked as hard as I could, and that obviously paid off and we are where we are now.”

Sarasota today, where the Orioles are getting ready to play the Pirates, and Boston next week.

“The hard work paid off,” Harvey said, “and I’m not going to give up on that and I’m going to keep working, keep trying to get better and try to win as many games as I can.”

The lessons learned at Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville, N.J., where he spent three days in February after traveling from Miami, easily transferred to the Ed Smith Stadium complex. Orioles pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt kept stressing to Harvey the importance of steering his focus straight ahead. Not letting his mind wander to a past.

The accolades and 100 mph fastball stayed with the Mets. He couldn’t unpack them in Sarasota. He could turn around his career without turning back the clock.

“Big thing that Chris Holt likes to say is that you should never look back and try to be just as good as you were before,” Harvey said. “He’s tried to emphasize that with some new weapons, with smarter pitching, maybe it could be even better. At least strive to be better. And that kind of stuff hung with me pretty well.

“Coming out every day and working on mechanics, working on strength, working on flexibility, really staying adamant about doing all that stuff. In my mind if I can prepare and make sure everything is lined up to be successful, then who knows what’s going to happen? So I’m excited about it. My body feels great, my arm feels great. Mentally, I’m in a good place and I’m very, very excited to be here.”

The fastball still climbs into the mid-90s, and Harvey figured out through bullpen sessions between starts and consultations that he needs to stay aggressive with every pitch in his arsenal. His confidence has to extend beyond the fastball and changeup.

“Really letting everything, I guess, rip, as you could say,” he said. “When I was at my best, I will always remember that, just being super aggressive with all pitches, and I think that’s on its way.

“I feel like the last couple years I’ve just been searching all week for the proper mechanics, searching for, I guess, that feel-good moment where things click and you feel like you’re on your way. And when you feel like you’re doing that, obviously going into a game you’re just going to continue to do that. I think really feeling comfortable in between starts each time I’ve taken the ball, it’s been something that’s definitely carried over into the game and once I start feeling comfortable throwing all my pitches and attacking the zone, that’s how I was good. So I’m very optimistic about that and excited to start the season.”

Harvey has joined his fifth organization since 2018. He never imagined that he’d begin following the path of a journeyman. Now it fuels him.

“I know how the lowest of lows feels in this game,” he said.

“Like I said, I’m not going to try to be as good as I was, I’m going to try to be better. I think that’s what you’ll see on the mound and that’s what I’m going to take every day. And I think with that, the confidence, the true competitiveness comes out and you’re able to attack a lot more.”

Released by the Angels in July 2019 and twice granted free agency, Harvey gravitated toward a team that used to repel analytics. The data that the Pleasantville facility happily dispensed for three days - relieved that the starter was a willing and enthusiastic student.

“I’m actually kind of kicking myself I didn’t go up there earlier and put in a couple more days with those guys, but I’m kind of a person that thinks things happen for a reason,” he said.

“I went up there at the right time and was able to kind of figure some stuff out and latched on here with these guys. They picked up right where those guys in New Jersey left off and I definitely got a lot of information from them here all at once and we just tried to piece them all together, piece the mechanics together and all the information, and that’s where we are now.

“Luckily, they know kind of how to fix things and get me back on track if things start going back to where they were. It seems like it will be a pretty easy fix to get back, so we’re staying with it.”

Another veteran starter, Wade LeBlanc, requested his release from the Orioles and became a free agent.

LeBlanc was able to opt out of his contract and the Orioles didn’t place him on the 40-man roster.

Re-signed to a minor league deal after making only six starts in 2020 due to a stress reaction in his left elbow, LeBlanc allowed two earned runs (three total) and three hits in eight innings. He walked five batters and struck out seven.

The Orioles still have a full 40-man roster.

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