Six pitches thrown in the first inning. Only 18 through the second and 28 through the third. Eleven of 12 first-pitch strikes. No runs against him.
Matt Harvey was having himself a day. Manager Brandon Hyde was having visions of a starter plowing through the early and middle innings, removing one of the hardest decisions he routinely makes during the season, which inevitably fuels second-guessing as a first reaction to it.
A hit batter, walk and infield single in the fourth, with Domingo Leyba’s diving stop preventing a run, plopped Harvey in bases-loaded, two-out mess that he solved with bouncer from Michael A. Taylor. The 24-pitch inning was nothing more than a hiccup.
Harvey tossed six shutout innings, Ramón Urías remained an unexpected offensive force with two more hits, including a two-run single, and the Orioles claimed the series in Kansas City with a 5-0 victory over the Royals.
Trey Mancini followed Austin Hays’ double in the fifth with a run-scoring single, his exit velocity at 111.2 mph per Statcast, Ryan McKenna scored all the way from first base in the sixth on Austin Wynns’ two-out double to left, and the Orioles improved to 30-62.
Wynns led off the third with a walk, Hays singled, DJ Stewart walked with two outs and Urías poked a single to right field for his seventh multi-hit game in the last 10.
“I think his confidence is definitely growing,” Hyde said via Zoom. “He’s getting a couple hits a game, it seems like. A big hit early with a ball down the right field line to score a couple runs. Huge hit for us kind of early.
“He’s playing very solid defense. That’s all I ask from all of our guys is just, let’s make the routine play. That’s all we practice is the routine play.”
Harvey hadn’t won since May 1 in Oakland. Today marked only the second time in 19 starts that he completed the sixth. He allowed three hits, walked one batter and struck out two, getting a healthy amount of swings and misses with his slider. His ERA is down to 7.13.
“I think you go through so many struggles in the middle of the season leading up to the break and it just kind of wears on you a little bit,” he said. “Having, in my mind, that restart where I came into today and put in my mind that I was starting over, really trying to go out there and flip the switch on such a poor first half. Obviously, if you didn’t have the break and you keep going out there, I don’t know if it would have continued. Obviously, I didn’t want it to. But having those four days off to just kind of recharge, and got to see the family and spend some really quality time with loved one, it definitely helps and definitely gets your mind back into a better place where it’s easy to flip the switch and get after it in the second half.”
“I thought the extended rest definitely played a part and to be able to give him a few extra days,” Hyde said. “He’s been pitching with some nagging things and for him to get a breather, he was really good today. That was awesome. Been a while since we’ve had a six-inning start. He let it all out in the sixth, pretty much emptied it there.”
Hyde pulled Jorge López last night with two outs in the fifth and the Orioles ahead 8-4, a lengthy, three-run inning forcing the move, along with the right-hander’s history of hitting a wall in the middle of a start. And getting hit hard.
Here’s the tightrope that Hyde walks. Wanting to push his starters deeper into games to spare an eight-man bullpen and to test them, but also living by the data that explains why the outcome is likely to be bad. And also being careful with arms that are carrying a much heavier workload after the shortened 2020 season.
“That’s happened a lot already,” Hyde said earlier today.
“There’s been a lot of times this year where we send somebody out for the fifth and it doesn’t happen, things don’t go well. If our bullpen as in a little bit different shape, if we had a little bit more bulk guys in our ‘pen, if maybe the starter the day and two days before had gone six or seven innings, things might change. But when your starters go, we’re going four innings most nights, you’re running out of innings out of your bullpen. And I’m honestly very conscious of trying to keep them as fresh as possible, too.
“It’s not just the starters, it’s the relievers that are piling up innings, also, and so I feel like I’m rotating that as best as I possibly can. We’re getting through, we’re getting by, but hopefully our starters can go four or five innings for us. Lopie almost did it for us last night, almost broke the barrier. Not quite, but we did a nice job out of the ‘pen afterward.”
Harvey was averaging 4.2 innings per start before day and Hyde mentioned again how the veteran barely pitched over the last few seasons. Ramping him up and the in-game strategy also takes into account his age and experience.
“Like all the starters, I communicate with them after the third or fourth inning usually to see how he’s feeling, pitch counts at a certain spot,” Hyde said. “As I’ve gotten to know Matt over the course of this year, I understand he’s extremely competitive, doesn’t want to come out of the game, feels like it’s his game. Old-school mindset, which is beautiful, really wanting him to win or lose a game because it’s his start. But at the same time I’ve got to think about other things and make the decision what’s right of him and what’s right for the club.
“I think it changes a little when it’s a veteran. I think you communicate a little differently just because they have past experience.”
There wasn’t much to say to Harvey this afternoon beyond “good job.” He completed the fifth inning for only the second time in 13 starts and received lots of hugs after the sixth.
Actually, Hyde had a litlte more to say, but just to check on the veteran.
“After the third, after the fourth, after the fifth, I asked him how he was doing, just because he has been dealing with some stuff physically and making sure that he was good,” Hyde said. “I was constantly looking at the velo on the board. I think it was the fifth where he slowed his arm down on a couple off-speeds, I was worried about that, talked to Holty (Chris Holt), and he kind of got his arm speed back, which was good to see because for me that was a sign a little bit that I might possibly have to get somebody up. But he got through that inning and got his arm speed back in the sixth and that was good to see.”
Building on a 2-0 lead was made more difficult with Andrew Benintendi’s diving catch to deny Wynns and end the fourth and Taylor’s diving catch to rob Cedric Mullins leading off the fifth. But Hays doubled into left-center off reliever Kyle Zimmer and Mancini singled to increase his team-leading RBI total to 57.
McKenna singled off Josh Staumont in the sixth and showed off his wheels by rounding the bases on Wynns’ double into the left field corner for a 4-0 lead.
Harvey didn’t need a lot of support, but he got it at the plate and, most unusual, in the field. Twenty-one of his first 28 pitches were strikes. The break must have done him a world of good.
Nicky Lopez singled with one out in the fifth and was stranded, sending Harvey to the dugout at 64 pitches, 42 for strikes. He retired the side in order in the sixth on only 10 pitches while Paul Fry and Dillon Tate warmed.
Orioles starters hadn’t completed six innings since López on June 22 against the Astros. They worked fewer than five innings in 14 of the last 15 games.
Harvey hadn’t tossed six scoreless innings since Sept. 14, 2018 with the Reds.
“There was a hug in the dugout just because he knew that ... he wants to go deep in the game and he wants to get back to the form that he was in ‘12-‘15 and he works extremely hard at it,” Hyde said. “He’s disappointed with not going deeper in games and the fourth- and fifth-inning issues he’s kind of had. I think a lot of that is physical, too. The year layoff, the weird year he had the year before, injury stuff. But for him to get an extended period of rest and go out and really keep his pitch count down, for me that’s the huge thing with our starters. Just the pitch count down early and not have the third time through the order at 80-85 pitches, which we almost do on a nightly basis. ... It was nice to see a starter go six.”
Leyba led off the eighth with a double and scored on errors by reliever Greg Holland and Dozier that allowed McKenna and Kelvin Gutierrez to reach.
Cole Sulser struck out two batters and stranded a runner in the eighth and Tate stranded Dozier, who had four hits, following a leadoff double in the ninth.
Notes: Double-A Bowie’s Grayson Rodriguez started the opener of today’s doubleheader in Erie and struck out a career-high 12 batters in five innings, with an unearned run and two hits allowed. He walked one batter. Right fielder Kyle Stowers hit his sixth home run and Malquin Canelo hit his first.
Johnny Rizer hit his fifth home run, a three-run shot, in Game 2.
Dean Kremer surrendered three home runs in 3 1/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk in Memphis. He allowed five earned runs and eight total, with six hits, two walks, a wild pitch, a hit batter and a throwing error. His ERA is 7.20.