If the second half of the Grapefruit League schedule is about dialing it up and playing cleaner, better baseball, the Orioles got the memo on Monday at Ed Smith Stadium. They went 3-10-1 in the first half of the spring, but began the second-half 1-0 with their best game to this point under the Florida sun.
There was a spring training-high 12 runs scored. They hit three homers after going eight games without one. There was some solid defense for the second game in a row. And some pitching highlights as well. Right-hander Matt Harvey continues to make strides with his mechanics and touched 96 mph on the gun. Shawn Armstrong and Fernando Abad combined for two scoreless innings and Keegan Akin allowed just one run over the last three innings.
In his second spring start (he also threw three innings in a simulated game), Harvey allowed five hits and two runs over four innings with no walks and four strikeouts. Manager Brandon Hyde thought it was a good outing for him, and it’s clear Harvey has been working hard on his mechanics and feels he’s made plenty of progress under the Florida sun.
His four-seamer had some good life and his two-seamer was there to go down and in on right-handed hitters, which could open up the outer part of the plate to him for his breaking pitches.
In his first three seasons in the National League starting in 2012, Harvey pitched to an ERA of 2.53 and WHIP of 1.000 in 65 starts. But the last two years with the Angels and Royals, he is 3-8 with a 7.82 ERA and 1.738 WHIP over 19 games.
Somewhere between those two extremes, perhaps there is a pitcher that can beat long odds and help the Orioles this season.
On Monday, he felt he took a nice step forward. He retired the side in order twice and feels he’s making progress.
“It’s obviously been frustrating the last couple of years, just knowing that there is something missing,” Harvey said after his outing. “Mostly it was mechanical and I wasn’t able to get the power that I felt I had. Just kind of trying to figure that out and not be able to really go out and you know, the idea of pitching is to focus on the attack and to go after each pitch. Like I’ve said many times, it’s hard to do that when you’re thinking about five different things mechanically. Today was a huge step in the right direction where I was actually able to, for the most part, just concentrate on attacking the zone and not getting caught up in mechanical things.
“Obviously, giving up hits and runs is not ideal, but as far as mechanically through the outing, I couldn’t be - I think there was maybe one or two hiccups that I could feel. But other than that, everything was pretty solid.”
Harvey threw some credit to O’s pitching coach Chris Holt and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes for the work and effort they have put in with him at spring training. He said it’s been big.
“Absolutely. I think - I told them, instead of me searching and trying to figure out what I am doing wrong and how to fix it, they’ve been able to pinpoint that and kind of show me videos from when I threw before,” Harvey said. “And explain what I’m doing now and really how to fix it. That was the hard part I’ve had the last couple years is having that answer of hey, whether it’s load your back hip a little bit more or you know, create some scapular flexion here, look you use to do this and you’re not doing it anymore.
“You know, they’ve been unbelievable with that and obviously the work’s not done. We’re not satisfied and we’re going to keep pounding those mechanics and the work in so that everything can fall into place and just concentrate on getting people out and executing each pitch.”
If the Orioles do wind up signing free agent third baseman Maikel Franco, it would mean he and Harvey could be teammates for two seasons in a row. They played together with Kansas City last year, after Harvey spent a few years facing him as an opponent in the National League East.
Harvey said if this deal gets done, the O’s will have a player he is sure can help them.
“The guy’s got some serious pop and can do some damage for sure,” Harvey said. “You know, having him at third, whoever it is, obviously I’m not in charge of those decisions, but he definitely has an unbelievable arm and plays a good third base. He can swing it. And, from the short season last year that I spent time with him, he’s a great teammate. So, whatever obviously is decided, it will be good to have some extra bats always.”
Franco started all 60 games last season for Kansas City. He had his best statistical year since 2018, batting .278/.321/.457/.778 with 16 doubles, eight homers and 38 RBIs. Over 162 games, those numbers would produce 22 homers and 103 RBIs. He’s been better that league average in two of the last three seasons.
Franco had a strong finish in terms of run production last year, driving in 25 runs his last 33 games, when he hit .378 with runners in scoring position. He finished tied for third in the AL in doubles and fourth with 20 two-out RBIs.
The 28-year-old was signed for a bonus of $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic by the Phillies in 2010. He was their No. 1-ranked prospect in 2014 when he was No. 17 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list. The following year, he was No. 56.
Back-back-back-- Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) March 15, 2021
to back-back-back. pic.twitter.com/YzVDL09Upg