Rehab road: Hunter Harvey’s comeback from Tommy John surgery is underway

Don’t blame Orioles pitching prospect Hunter Harvey if he feels he is due for some good fortune over the next few seasons. That might make up for the last few seasons. Harvey, who had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on July 26, has pitched just 12 2/3 innings since July 25, 2014.

Ranked as the No. 68 prospect in the sport by Baseball America after the 2014 season, Harvey’s O’s career started off in very promising fashion after the club made him the 22nd-overall pick out of a North Carolina high school in June 2013. He was signed to a slot bonus of $1,947,600. Harvey pitched to an ERA of 1.78 in eight starts between the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Single-A Aberdeen that summer. The next year he was 7-5 with a 3.18 ERA through 17 starts for Single-A Delmarva before he was shut down with an injury that would eventually lead to his surgery. But between those two events, there were other issues that made the time frame since late July 2014 a real hardship for a pitcher that just turned 22.

A look back at the Harvey timeline:

* Suffers strained right flexor mass in late July 2014
* Deals with a shin injury when hit by a comebacker in spring training 2015
* In May 2015, gets a platelet-rich plasma injection in right elbow, administered by Dr. James Andrews
* Shutdown at instructional league with continuing elbow discomfort in September 2015
* In October 2015, Dr. Andrews detects healing on Harvey’s MRI and six weeks of rest, not surgery, is prescribed at that time
* Harvey was feeling good in spring training 2016, but then had sports hernia surgery in May
* In June 2016, Harvey returns to the mound in a minor league game for the first time in nearly two years
* In July 2016, Harvey is shut down again and on July 26 he undergoes the Tommy John procedure performed by Dr. Donald D’Alessandro in Charlotte, N.C.

“It’s been a real tough few years,” Harvey said in a recent phone interview. “I went from never even having stitches or anything wrong growing up to two years of being hurt. My dad (former big league pitcher Bryan Harvey) and my family have kept me positive. They are saying I’m still young and this will be a bump in the road. I just hope I won’t be getting injured anymore. Having my dad, mom and brother Kris around me has been a huge help through this.”

Hunter Harvey throws black.pngOne question Harvey said he doesn’t ask is why this all happened to him and why he’s been dealing with injuries and setbacks for most of the last three seasons.

“I really don’t look at that,” Harvey said. “I think that is one of the things that goes with playing baseball and being a pitcher. It can happen to anybody. Every time I picked up a ball since I first started pitching, I would treat every pitch like my last. It doesn’t have to do with anything anybody did, it is just part of the game.”

Unlike with some young pitchers, we can likely rule out any misuse of his right arm on the amateur level that led to the surgery. A former major league pitcher would not allow that to happen to his son.

“I didn’t play any travel ball growing up,” Harvey said. “My junior year I threw 100 innings, the most I ever pitched, and my senior year I may not have even pitched that many. I was never overused.”

Harvey explained that he and the Orioles contemplated his having the surgery in the fall of 2015. But it looked like he would be healthy as the 2016 season began, so the thought was put aside. But he didn’t stay that way and he feels now that the sports hernia surgery last May led to his putting undue pressure on his elbow. This last setback he could not overcome and finally the surgery was needed.

Does he regret not having the procedure sooner?

“I mean, I can’t really say,” he said. “We had planned to have the surgery last year. Dr. (James) Andrews said it should heal up and be fine. That was the route we wanted to take - avoiding surgery was what we wanted. It just didn’t hold up and I also think the hernia surgery I had this year had something to do with the Tommy John. It was almost like I was scared to use my legs for a little while. Think it got to a point where I was pitching and using all arm, kind of just leaving my elbow out there to dry and I don’t think it could hold up.”

But now, over four months removed from the surgery, Harvey can begin to see the light at the end of a long tunnel. He will soon begin a throwing program.

“I start throwing Dec. 26,” he said. “The first month is from 45 feet, just playing light toss. The second month we back up a bit and it’s not too intense. Then roll into spring training and get on a normal throwing program and progress from there.”

Harvey’s rehab is being led by Orioles minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker, who was instrumental in getting right-hander Dylan Bundy back after his procedure in June 2013.

No one can predict for sure when Harvey will return to pitch in a game, but that usually happens sometime between 12 and 18 months after surgery. Even after the pitcher returns to the mound, it can take a while for him to regain his full velocity and command.

Orioles director of player development Brian Graham mentioned a return for Harvey would possibly be in the Arizona Fall League in October. But Harvey said he hasn’t reached the point to ponder that just yet.

“I haven’t really discussed any of that with them. I would say probably closer to when I get back on the mound we’ll discuss that. We just have to take one step at a time right now and make sure I come back fully healthy.”

Harvey said he is confident about that. He does expect to return to full health and pitch well again, just as Bundy did.

“I can’t say when that will be, but I do feel confident that I will get back to where I was before the injury bug got to me. I’ve been trying to stay mentally strong. This is not the end and this happens to a lot of people,” Harvey said.

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