Hunter Harvey on bullpen role: “I hope I stay there”

Orioles right-hander Hunter Harvey can admit it now. There was a time during all his injury issues - including Tommy John surgery in 2016 - that he wondered if he would continue to play the game. Making the majors seemed a long, long way off.

“With all the injuries and stuff, I had some negative thoughts go through my mind,” he said in the O’s clubhouse yesterday before the game. “Will I ever make it? In ‘15 and ‘16 I had thoughts, ‘Will I ever pitch anymore? What is going to happen?’ To finally overcome all that negative and make the majors is awesome. Luckily, I had my dad and my brother to keep me pushing forward. But I had (negative) thoughts. It was one thing after another and I couldn’t catch a break.”

Along with the Tommy John surgery and groin surgery, there was last year’s freak shoulder injury, the result of a ball coming at him while he was in the dugout.

Harvey-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgBut this year the Orioles’ 2013 top draft pick (No. 22 overall) was moved to the bullpen. Partly to conserve innings and partly to see how it would go. It went great and Harvey now sees himself in this role long-term.

“I hope so,” he said when asked if he expects to stay a reliever. “We’ll see what happens. See what they want to do. Either way, I’ll be happy pitching. But I’ve really enjoyed the bullpen and I hope I stay there.”

There could even be the chance to close games at some point?

“I think that would be really cool. I would enjoy closing. Following in Dad’s footsteps would be awesome,” Harvey said. His father, Bryan, saved 177 games in a nine-year major league career.

When Harvey moved to the bullpen for the first time June 14 at Double-A Bowie, he threw nine scoreless innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts for the Baysox. Then he moved up to Triple-A Norfolk and posted a 4.32 ERA in 12 bullpen games. But of the eight runs he allowed with the Tides, five came in one outing.

What has been the biggest difference pitching out of the ‘pen?

“Really, for me, you don’t have to roll a lineup,” Harvey said. “You can come out and attack right away with everything. You don’t have to worry about keeping something from a hitter for next time. I’ve gotten confidence in being able to attack every time.

“As a starter, I was always worried about getting deep in games. When I threw out of the bullpen, after the first outing, I felt it was so much more relaxing for me and I felt way more confident. Everything just felt so much better.”

When the 2019 season began, Harvey did not know that he would end the year as a reliever.

“I did not,” he said. “They said they had that plan the whole time, but I had no clue. I thought I was going to start all year. I could have started the season all year and been shut down (early). But the biggest goal was to finish healthy. So, I could have gotten where I needed to be and just hang out the last few weeks or go to the bullpen and finish the season. I wanted to go to the bullpen to keep pitching. Started pitching a little better and it’s worked out really well.”

In his last three games at Triple-A he threw four scoreless innings and got nine strikeouts. Over his last nine games with Norfolk he allowed three runs in 12 1/3, with one walk to 18 strikeouts. He was throwing gas and getting a lot of outs.

But it still surprised him how well he adapted and how comfortable he felt in the relief role.

“A little bit,” Harvey said. “I guess I just thought too much out there. How to set up guys up and all that. And now, it’s just attack.”

He followed up his big league debut with another strong inning last night against Kansas City. He fanned two in the top of the eighth, touching 100 mph. And then in the last of the eighth, when Hanser Alberto hit a tiebreaking three-run homer, Harvey picked up his first major league win.

And there are no longer thoughts about his career coming to a premature end or never making the majors.

His long-awaited major league debut came last Saturday night in Boston. He pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts and a fastball that touched 99 mph in that outing.

“I’ve been dreaming about that day all my life. For it to come true was awesome.”

On the farm last night: Single-A Delmarva beat Greensboro 6-5 to set a franchise record for wins in a season. The 2019 Shorebirds are now 84-41 overall and 36-20 in the second half and sit all alone in franchise history, besting the inaugural 1996 ballclub that finished 83-59. The next milestone up for Delmarva is the 90-win mark, last attained in the South Atlantic League in 2006 by the Augusta GreenJackets, who went 92-47.

Johnny Rizer went 3-for-5 and is batting .320, while Shayne Fontana and Adam Hall added two hits each. That trio at the top of the Delmarva batting order combined to go 7-for-12, scoring six runs with one RBI.

Double-A Bowie lost 4-3 to Binghamton to fall 2 1/2 games back of Erie for first place in the second half with 13 to play. Ryan Ripken hit his first career Double-A homer for the Baysox.

Triple-A Norfolk beat Gwinnett 5-1 as Ryan Mountcastle homered again. He went 3-for-5 and drove in two. He homered for the third game in a row and has hit five homers his past nine games.

For the season over 115 games, Mountcastle is batting .315/.345/.535 with 30 doubles, a triple, 24 homers and 77 RBIs. Mountcastle is fourth in the International League in RBIs and first in hits with 148. Norfolk has won seven of 10 and is 12-5 in August.

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