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How will the Orioles handle a healthy Hunter Harvey?

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Alliteration aside, how Baltimore handles a healthy Hunter Harvey could be one of the most important decisions they make in 2019.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in spring training, the Orioles most glaring hole on a team filled with openings remains the back end of the starting rotation. When looking ahead to the opening day roster, as Mark Brown did on Monday, some positions are likely secured and others are becoming a bit more clear.

Chance Sisco appears confident at the plate and ready to take one of the two catching spots. Richie Martin and Drew Jackson may have inside shots at roster spots after Mike Elias selected them in the Rule 5 draft. Yusniel Diaz will likely spend some time at Norfolk, which opens up a spot in the outfield for either DJ Stewart or Austin Hays.

But even if Nate Karns remains healthy and files in as the Birds’ fourth starter, there’s still at least one slot up for grabs. Mark gave Josh Rogers the nod for the sake of switching things up and sneaking a lefty into the rotation. Still, there are a plethora of candidates vying for the starting job. David Hess and Yefry Ramirez are back, while Luis Ortiz and John Means would love a crack at it. But we now know at least one arm that won’t be there on opening day.

The Orioles have reassigned Hunter Harvey to minor league camp. Baltimore trimmed the 24-year-old from the long list of arms with their first round of spring cuts on Sunday. It’s no surprise that the Orioles did not consider Harvey for the rotation, but they relegated him back to the minors quicker than it would take to rattle off his list of past injuries. Harvey remained in big league camp until the last week of spring training in 2018.

The move suggests that the new Orioles brass will be especially careful with the club’s top pick from 2013. Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde told reporters that the best thing Harvey is to be in a “structured situation where he can monitor his pitches and monitor his health.” Hyde added that the best thing for the Orioles is the best thing for Hunter Harvey.

While it’s certainly possible that Harvey makes an appearance in Baltimore before the season ends, it does not behoove him to pitch as a de facto reliever in big league camp. This way, Harvey can prepare for the job he’ll have in April— a minor league starting pitcher.

It’s unknown if the Orioles have a firm innings limit for Harvey in 2019, but they’ll certainly be keeping close tabs on him. Still, optioning Harvey now makes sense for a variety of reasons. The former 22nd overall pick (yes, the Orioles once had a pick as low as 22) has pitched 176.2 innings in five years. That’s one season of starting pitching.

Harvey struggled at Double-A Bowie in 2018. He posted a 5.57 ERA in 32.1 innings across nine starts. Those numbers mean next to nothing, but it will be interesting to see where the Orioles start Harvey this year. He’s never pitched above Double-A, but he’ll have to spend some time at Norfolk before making his way to the show.

If the Orioles are being extremely cautious with Harvey, they’ll start him out at Bowie and allow him some time to settle in. There’s no reason to rush him along, and the righty would certainly benefit from a confidence boost. But he’s already 24, and his mid-90s fastball and above average breaking ball are certainly ready for Triple-A hitters.

The Orioles have said that the only goal for Harvey this year is to remain healthy. But if he can, he’ll also need to work on his complimentary pitches and building back up some stamina. There will be a full house at Norfolk, but there’s always room for a former first-round pick in the rotation. If the Orioles hope to see him in the majors this season, it may make sense to start him off at Norfolk.

With Tommy John surgery, a comebacker to the fibula, and a whole lot of elbow inflammation behind him, Harvey certainly seems due for a full season absent of injury. He’s fallen all the way down to eighth on the Orioles top prospect list from MLB.com, but there’s no question that a healthy Harvey could be a legitimate contributor on the next winning Orioles team.

In a rebuild state of mind, Harvey remains one of the most intriguing storylines on the Orioles. There’s no doubt the organization will tread lightly, but it will be interesting to see how they handle a healthy Harvey if they get the chance.