100 on the radar gun? Check.
Swings and misses? Check.
Movement on his stuff we haven’t seen before? Check.
It’s Hunter Harvey time!
Around 10:30 p.m. last Friday, Hunter Harvey got a call from the Orioles letting him know he’d been joining them for their road trip to Boston. “When I got that phone call last night, I was kind of blown away,” Harvey said. “I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”
Hunter’s dad, Bryan, a former big-league reliever who pitched nine seasons for the Angels (then of California) and the Marlins (then of Florida) from 1987 to 1995, was so excited to catch his son’s big-league debut he drove 12 hours from North Carolina to Boston. (Tell me Dad isn’t the spitting image of his son.)
Harvey made his Major League debut on Saturday, August 17 in Fenway against the Red Sox. With the Orioles down 2-0, it looked like Brandon Hyde would play it conservative. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Paul Fry allowed a two-run home run to Rafael Devers and suddenly it was a non-save situation. Shawn Armstrong, who’d been getting loose, sat down, and out of the pen came Harvey to face the middle of the Red Sox lineup.
Harvey greeted the dangerous J.D. Martinez with a 98-mph fastball. He threw him two changeups out of the zone. Then he came in with the fastball. Martinez bounced it to Hanser Alberto. Out number one. Harvey threw Andrew Benintendi three straight fastballs at 99, a changeup out of the zone, then three more fastballs, the last two wide of the plate. A walk. Against catcher Christian Vázquez, another diet of three fastballs, a changeup inside, a foul ball, then a swinging strike on another heater at 99. Up came the lefty Mitch Moreland. A fastball on the inside corner went for a called strike one. A changeup caught the outside of the plate. Moreland fouled off a high fastball. Then, another fastball in on his hands. Moreland swung, and came up empty. Strike three!
“After I got that first pitch out of the way, it was just so much easier to breathe,” Harvey said after the game.
Against Kansas City on Monday, Harvey was even better. He had a 1-2-3 inning with two more strikeouts, Whit Merrifield swinging through the breaking stuff and Jorge Soler staring at a fastball on the corner.
What took you so long, Hunter?
Well, two things. As we know, the Orioles 2013 first-rounder’s career has been derailed by injury—er, injuries. They almost have a personality of their own at this point. Harvey broke his leg in 2015. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016. He had more elbow pain in 2017, rolled his ankle in 2018, and then had more elbow pain. He then injured his shoulder in a freak accident trying to dodge a foul ball in the dugout.
This season, a finally-healthy Harvey meant fans could start hoping for the return of the fireballing starter the Orioles drafted as a 19-year-old straight out of high school. The problem was, he just wasn’t very good. In eleven starts for Double-A Bowie, Harvey’s ERA was an unsightly 6.12, his WHIP a worrying 1.62, and opponents were batting .304 against him.
Pitching coach Kennie Steenstra figured it was time to try something else. The stuff wasn’t the problem. Harvey would throw strikes and get swings and misses in the first couple of innings, but then opponents would start to time him up, and the back end of the start would be a disaster. Maybe it was time to try him out of the ‘pen.
On June 14, Harvey came out to face the Trenton Thunder in the sixth inning. In three innings, he allowed a walk but no hits, and he racked up four strikeouts. Then, on June 20, he did it again: three more innings, one hit, two more strikeouts. And yet again, on June 25: three innings of relief, nine batters faced, no hits, five strikeouts. Boom. That was all the Orioles brass needed to see. On June 30, Harvey was whisked up to Triple-A to try his luck against stiffer competition as a reliever, just like his dad had been.
Apparently the change of perspective was all Hunter needed. After his first relief outing, he called up his dad and told him, “Dad, my mind was so much freer tonight.” The elder Harvey responded, “That’s what we’ve been looking for all year.” Hunter said, “Well as a starter, I’m trying to figure out how to go seven, eight innings. Now, I just go throw it. It’s working.”
After just a month and a half in Norfolk, the Orioles decided Hunter was finally ready for the big show.
Orioles fans have reason to be excited about Harvey: the last few months prove that, even after his record of injuries, the stuff is still there. He was averaging 95-96 mph on the fastball at Triple-A, but since he got to the majors, it is up to an average of 98.8. Adrenaline, sure, but it’s exciting stuff.
The trick, it seems, was to help Harvey get over his mental hurdles and just let it ride. (Which happens to be exactly what he’s doing with his mullet.) Keep in mind, Hunter has only been a reliever for two months now, and the results are blowing everyone away.
Harvey still needs to work on command and deception. His four-seam fastball is fire, but his two-seamer, the one with sink, gives him a little more trouble. Whatever. This is an electric arm, and Orioles fans should feel excited about what’s in store for him. In a season that’s sometimes felt like a never-ending parade of crappiness, it’s good to catch a glimpse of what competitive Orioles baseball is going to look like in the future.
Welcome, Hunter Harvey! Let’s hope you stick around for a while.