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Will 2021 finally be the year Hunter Harvey stays healthy?

It’s an age old question in Birdland, but a healthy Hunter Harvey would bolster a young bullpen on the rise.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

I know, I know, you have heard this one before. The question “will this finally be the year for Hunter Harvey?” falls right into the “evergreen” content department. To make matters worse, the question has yet to yield a positive response.

And yet, here we are. A high ceiling, first-round draft status and a quality head of hair make it difficult to just forget about the O’s first pick in 2013. While the days dreaming of a top of the rotation ace have come to an end, hopes for a steady back end to the bullpen remain alive and well.

Harvey overcame Tommy John surgery and a plethora of other injuries to finally navigate his way through the Orioles minor league system. He resurrected the Harvey hype train with seven strong appearances to close out the 2019 season.

Few players in all of Major League Baseball could have generated the level of excitement that Harvey brought to Birdland with those 6.1 innings. A few high leverage situations transformed the righty from a lost cause to Baltimore’s closer of the future. The excitement around Harvey continued to grow over a dull offseason.

Many anticipated a strict innings limit for the injury-prone hurler, but a pandemic-shortened season changed the game. Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde stated that he hoped to use the righty “as much as possible” over the 60-game season. Unfortunately, the possibility of a full season, even an abridged one, quickly evaporated.

News broke in late July that an elbow issue would prevent Harvey from making the Opening Day roster. The Orioles claimed that they were not overly concerned, but intended to be conservative with the former top prospect. No one could blame the organization for playing it safe, but the story made for one more bummer in a troubling year.

Harvey finally made his season debut on August 30. He kept the velocity on his 97 mph fastball and depended on it quite a bit. Baseball Savant recorded that Harvey used his four-seamer 78% of the time. Harvey worked in a curveball and an occasional changeup to keep hitters on their toes every once in a while.

The results were a bit of a mixed bag. Harvey finished the year with an 0-2 record and 4.15 ERA over 10 games. He did not allow a run in seven of the 10 starts, and his 1.154 WHIP did not rate much higher than the 1.105 from the previous September. It’s another small sample size, but Harvey was a pair of bad outings away from another electric month.

No one knows for sure if the MLB will play a complete schedule in 2021, and they certainly cannot predict the health of Mr. Harvey. However, as long as that right arm is still attached to his body, there is reason to be optimistic.

Harvey will join 2020 breakouts Tanner Scott and Paul Fry along with fellow first-rounder Dillon Tate and the enigma Cesar Valdez. When they pitch to their potential, that’s a big league bullpen. If Harvey is able to contribute on a consistent basis, there should not be a surplus of blown leads in Baltimore.

The Orioles’ 2021 rotation will feature a group of young and talented pitchers. Pitchers that still need to develop. Pitchers that will not work seven innings on a regular basis. A dependable bullpen will be crucial for Baltimore next season, and it appears that they might just have one.

With another potentially slow offseason on the docket, it’s intriguing to consider how the Orioles can improve next season. A healthy Trey Mancini will go a long way, and so could a full year of Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, but a healthy Hunter Harvey could make quite the difference.