Former Orioles skipper Buck Showalter would sometimes refer to something or someone in baseball as being “delayed but not denied.” Be patient and you’ll be rewarded.
For O’s bullpen righty Hunter Harvey, will major league stardom be delayed but not denied?
The guy’s career has seen more delays seemingly than the Baltimore Beltway at rush hour. From 2015-2017 on the farm, he threw a total of 31 1/3 innings. Through 2018, that four-year total was 63 2/3 innings.
So many injury issues, well beyond just the recovery from Tommy John surgery in July 2016. So many stops and starts. So much time being careful with his outings to try and nurse him through and keep him healthy. In missing innings on the farm, Harvey missed out on experience he can never get back. He’s a savvy kid and the son of a former big league closer, but the injuries not only limited his trips to the mound but chances to improve his pitches and hone his craft.
Despite that, there is little question of the first-round talent. And in a very small sample over the end of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, we got to see it at times with the Orioles. Harvey possesses a high 90s fastball, and an at times devastating splitter that produced 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 big league innings in 2019 - a strikeout rate of 15.6.
But Harvey’s start to last year was delayed. Yes, again. Another injury issue. He had a strained right forearm, which was cause for a concern for a pitcher who previously had elbow ligament replacement surgery. He missed the first 32 of 60 games and was activated by the Orioles on Aug. 30.
And when he pitched this past season, it was not with the same crispness on his pitches, and batters were not nearly swinging and missing as much. In 10 games, he went 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA. In 8 2/3 innings, he gave up eight hits with two walks and six strikeouts. That is a strikeout rate of 6.2 per nine innings.
“I don’t think I’m at my best right now,” Harvey said during a mid-September interview. “I would like to punch more guys out than I am. My stuff just isn’t clicking like it was last year. But it’s something we’re working on. I’m trying to get it there. It’s going to click at any time and we’ll be good to go.”
Harvey noted his split-finger didn’t have the same effectiveness. One potential reason was the speed difference was reduced from 2019 when his fastball averaged 98.4 mph and his splitter 89.8 mph. Last summer, his fastball averaged 97.4 mph and his split was at 90.7 mph.
But there was likely more to it than just that. Being hurt, he just didn’t get in the amount of work he did before the O’s called him up in August 2019. Then he had one walk to 18 strikeouts over his last 12 1/3 Triple-A innings at the time of his call-up.
In a September interview, then-pitching coach Doug Brocail noted how the O’s just needed to reach a point with the kid when he could pitch more often while staying healthy. Then the late-inning weapon he can be would be on full display.
“The problem is, we’re kind of careful with Harv and it’s one of those things that, I’m ready for him to pitch every other day - five, six times in a 10-12 day period and I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Brocail said. “Hopefully next year, that’s where we’re at and he’s either setting up or closing. It’s a huge, huge, huge arm. We all know that. We got to see a glimpse of it last year and this is an exciting kid. He’s not afraid of anything.”
It was noted at the time but Harvey did finally pitch in back-to-back games in the final weekend of the O’s season, working against Toronto on Sept. 26 and 27. One small step toward more regular work. Maybe another step toward delayed but not denied.
Harvey looked around at the O’s clubhouse late in the year and noted the young talent. A list of players that should still include the right-hander. He turned 26 earlier this month.
“We’ve got some good young talent coming, and there is some of it here,” he said. “Kind of just all around, too. You look at our starters with (Keegan) Akin and (Dean) Kremer and how they’ve been pitching, and (Ryan) Mountcastle, (Austin) Hays, DJ (Stewart), Cedric (Mullins). It’s a bright future, and I think we have more in our system that is going to help out a lot. It’s going to be fun.”
It will get more fun for Harvey when he can pitch and be healthy through an entire season. He’s about to enter his ninth pro season in 2021 and he’s pitched more than 33 innings just twice.
If his health and potential are both on display next season, perhaps there will be no further delays in Harvey becoming an impactful O’s pitcher.