Harvey on hill as fans head to Camden Yards for home opener

Opening day in the traditional sense isn’t happening this afternoon at Camden Yards. However, gates are opening to fans, players will be introduced and the sounds of baseball will mix with real, live crowd reactions.

The dugout chatter won’t ricochet off the empty seats.

The ballpark can be filled to 25 percent capacity, around 11,000 fans, as the Orioles play their first home series. Matt Harvey makes his second career start in Baltimore, unable to work out in his new surroundings due to the two-city road trip that proceeded his arrival.

Harvey’s other appearance came on May 11, 2019 with the Angels, when he allowed two runs and five hits with six strikeouts over four innings in a 7-2 win. Dwight Smith Jr., no longer in the organization, hit a two-run homer in the first to match Albert Pujols’ shot off Dylan Bundy in the top half.

“You have to look at it as a normal start,” Harvey said yesterday in his Zoom call. “I obviously know it’s the home opener and it’s extremely exciting, but I’ve been fortunate to pitch in a lot of ballparks, a lot of new ballparks, and it’s an honor to wear the Baltimore jersey and pitch for our home opener.

“It’s a big league game. You’ve got to go out there no matter where you are and get people out and that’s what I’m going to do.”

As the No. 2 starter breaking camp, Harvey was lined up for today’s assignment. Manager Brandon Hyde wanted a right-hander to separate John Means and rookie Bruce Zimmermann.

Harvey-Delivers-Orange-Fenway-Sidebar.jpg“I think every game you have butterflies to some degree,” Harvey said. “It’s exciting. It’s a big league game, it’s a big league ballpark and that never gets old. It only intensifies when it’s the home opener. It’s exciting and I’m honored to get the ball (today).”

The Orioles have marked their attendance as zero since September 2019 due to COVID-19. Some restrictions remain in place - outside food can’t be brought into the ballpark, for example - but there’s going to be an atmosphere. There’s going to be a level of excitement that couldn’t be attained with piped-in noise and team employees scattered in the stands.

“Obviously, it’s our home park, but I think in general being back in major league ballparks with fans, it’s extremely exciting,” Harvey said. “I got to really get a good feel of it with about 16 of my family members at the game I pitched in Boston. I have some friends coming in (today) and I have some former teammates coming in for my next start, so it’s exciting.

“It’s what Major League Baseball is all about is playing for the fans, playing at home, playing in your own city, and we’re obviously extremely excited for the support and hopefully sooner than later we can have a full crowd.

“I’ve thrown there once and I enjoyed playing there. It’s an incredible ballpark. It was a good first experience and I’m obviously looking forward to it (today) and for the next six months, however long it is.”

Said Hyde: “I think when you start the season on the road, it does feel like you haven’t been home in a long time. I’m just looking forward to Camden Yards and having fans there, having people in the seats and having our players experience fans in the stands again at home. It’s been a while and I know everyone is looking forward to that. So that’s probably the biggest thing in our clubhouse that everyone is looking forward to is opening day at home and having people there, which we haven’t seen since ‘19.”

Hyde has talked about the opening day experience, Baltimore style, with some of his younger players.

“I think that everybody is just excited to go home and to experience the home crowd,” he said. “Camden Yards is extremely special and we haven’t played in front of fans at home in a while. So for all the new, young guys that haven’t experienced a home opener before, it’s going to be a special experience for them. Yeah, I just want them to soak it in and relax and have fun and enjoy it.”

Harvey made his Orioles debut Saturday at Fenway Park and surrendered two runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings. Means was a really tough act to follow with his seven scoreless innings and only one hit allowed.

“As a starting pitcher, you know what your job is,” Harvey said. “Whether you’re young, whether you’re older, whether you’re experienced or not, the goal of a starting pitcher is to get six, seven innings and not tax the bullpen. And I think you kind of learn that at a young age. You definitely learn it as more (of a) veteran.

“Those days where you can save the bullpen and really take over, it helps everybody. It helps the whole team. I haven’t in a while been a huge strikeout guy and I hope to get back to that at some point, whether it’s tomorrow or the near future. But I think what we’ve been working on since spring training is pounding the zone, throwing strikes, trying to get early outs. Obviously, I didn’t do a very good job of that in my last start, but you’re going to have some of those games.

“The biggest thing is weak contact, trying to get early outs and being in the game as long as you can. That saves your bullpen now and it really saves them later in the season.”

Outfielder DJ Stewart could return for the series, described again as making progress and nearing activation while working out at the alternate training site in Bowie. He hasn’t played since March 5.

It’s going to happen.

“I’m not sure of the exact date,” Hyde said yesterday, “but, yeah, he is getting close.”

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