Another reason to watch in 2020: Hunter Harvey

If there were an award for top Orioles relief outing of the 2019 season, the work by Hunter Harvey from Aug. 27 at Nationals Park would be a prime contender.

When we discussed reasons to watch the 2020 Orioles in yesterday’s entry, we sure could have included Harvey. After his impressive pitching in a small sample in 2019, who doesn’t want to see more from the kid in 2020?

Harvey-Delivers-Orange-at-KC-Sidebar.jpgHis high-wire act on that late August night - when he was throwing fastballs from 98 to 100 mph - was something special to watch. We didn’t know it then, but the Nats would win the World Series and produce late and clutch offense all through October.

They just couldn’t do it that night versus a rookie making his fourth career appearance. A rookie with three major league outings and innings under his belt to that point.

Harvey came on to protect a 2-0 lead in the last of the eighth and got Gerardo Parra to ground to second. Trea Turner lined a 99 mph elevated 2-2 fastball into the left-field corner for a triple. Then Harvey won an eight-pitch battle with Adam Eaton and struck him out on a splitter. Harvey then pitched very carefully and walked Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto back-to-back, just missing with several close pitches that the Nats’ top hitters took. With bases loaded and two outs, he faced Asdrúbal Cabrera, owner of three career grand slams. Harvey struck him out on a 99 mph heater. Inning over on 33 pitches, 19 for strikes.

Said manager Brandon Hyde after that game: “I just think he challenged him (Rendon) but didn’t challenge him in the middle, which was fantastic. Did the same thing with Soto, who is another superstar player that is swinging the bat really well now too. Love the fact that after those walks, bases loaded, crowd’s loud, to be able to compose himself and make pitches to Cabrera shows a lot of maturity.”

It did indeed. The Nats offense was humming, they were at home, they had the kid on the ropes. He escaped. During a season with a lot of losses, that was an impressive outing and 2-0 Orioles win.

O’s fans have been waiting on a moment like that from Harvey since the day the club selected him in round one of the 2013 draft. But Tommy John surgery and other issues limited him to 63 2/3 innings from 2015-2018. Last season, between Double-A Bowie, Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore, he threw 82.

He didn’t pitch after Sept. 13 and was shut down due to mild right biceps soreness. But, while Harvey should be fine for spring, he’ll be watched closely, no doubt, in some early spring outings.

He first moved to the bullpen in mid-June at Bowie. Between the Baysox and Tides, he pitched to an ERA of 2.81 out of the bullpen with 33 strikeouts over 25 2/3. The O’s called him up on Aug. 17. In seven games he went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA. In 6 1/3 innings he allowed three hits and one run with four walks and 11 strikeouts, for a strikeout rate of 15.6 per nine. He got 11 of his 19 outs with Baltimore via strikeout.

Over his last 14 games of the 2019 season - seven each with Norfolk and Baltimore - he posted a 1.17 ERA. Over 15 1/3 innings he gave up seven hits and two runs with four walks and 26 strikeouts. In his last four innings with Norfolk, he fanned nine.

He sure found a home in the ‘pen. While a future return to the rotation has not been ruled out, he is expected to be back in the ‘pen in 2020.

In his brief time in the big leagues, Harvey threw 70 percent fastballs that average 98.6 mph, per Brooksbaseball.net. He threw his splitter or changeup 19 percent, at an average of 89 mph, and his curveball 14 percent, at an average of 84 mph.

In the bullpen, the stuff and velocity played up nicely and Harvey embraced the role. He loved it and said numerous times he’d like to stay in the ‘pen.

After throwing 82 innings last season, Harvey should be fine to throw a full season in the bullpen come March and April. That’s not only another reason to watch, but it could provide a huge lift for a unit of the team that maybe could use it the most.

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