Silly me. I saw the headline that Harvey was hurt for the Orioles, and figured the Matt Harvey experiment had ended before it began.
I should have known what the headline was actually referring to was the same head-shaking scenario we’ve seen for some time now.
In case you missed it, Orioles reliever Hunter Harvey made it one pitch into his relief outing in Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Phillies before leaving with what was said to be a left oblique injury. On Monday, manager Brandon Hyde confirmed the injury while also saying that Harvey will definitely miss some time — a stretch that will in all likelihood take him through Opening Day and into the regular season.
Start with the positive: It’s not an arm injury. The woes that have thrown Harvey off course have been elbow and shoulder problems, and an oblique is a body issue that is more nagging and uncomfortable than it is severe and season-ending. It needs rest, not an operation or year’s worth of recovery.
But now for the negative: There’s a reason oblique injuries are not what a manager wants to hear. They take a while to recover. They can be aggravated. And unlike other injuries, which can be pinpointed as to the recovery time, obliques just tend to get better when they feel like it.
Not good for a team looking for Harvey and his blazing fastball to be the best weapon in a bullpen that was figuring this season to be A) busy, and B) pretty good.
While Harvey is out, Baltimore’s bullpen loses the established hierarchy. If Harvey was the odds-on favorite for the closer job, it’s up to either one of the team’s other young guns, be it Dillon Tate or Tanner Scott, or someone like Cesar Valdez, given his success last season, to take over. A closer by committee approach could become Hyde’s plan B if there’s no clear-cut alternate.
Even if Harvey was slotted for another role, his absence will be felt regardless. He was going to be — and will be when he returns — a fixture late in games, so high-leverage innings are up for grabs, and someone will have to handle more responsibility.
As for how long he’ll be out, that’s difficult to peg. When Chris Davis strained his oblique in 2017, he missed a month. When Wade Miley hurt his in 2018, he missed two. Ditto for Wei-Yin Chen when he suffered the same injury in 2013. Jose Veras in 2014, meanwhile, missed only two weeks with a sore oblique. These injuries heal in their own good time.
But hearing Harvey in the news for this reason brings up the other negative: It’s another tough break for a pitcher who has pretty much had nothing but.
It’s hard to believe Harvey is only 26, considering that it feels like a decade that the team has been dealing with his on-again, off-again medical status. It’s always something with him. It’s the elbow tightness that ruined his season in 2015, and then the Tommy John surgery that wiped out 2016. It was the elbow discomfort in 2018 that limited him to nine appearances. It was some more elbow pain that held him to 8.2 innings last year.
This was supposed to be the season Harvey shook free of those aches and pains. He apparently took measures to ensure it would be, throwing more in the offseason to ensure his arm and body would be more properly warmed up for the rigors of the baseball season. This isn’t someone who just skimps on the work and pays the price with trip after trip to the injured list. Harvey is more in tune with his lack of durability than anyone else, and made it his focal point for this season.
Now it’s not even halfway through March, and that plan has gone awry. And that’s where the frustration comes in; no, this isn’t the bad news that hearing a pop in his elbow would be, or that a sharp pain in his shoulder would be. It’s an oblique. He’ll be back.
It’s just the feeling of seeing yet another storm cloud. Yet another ominous sign that maybe it’s just going to be more of the same. That maybe the price of showing that stuff that had us all drooling at the thought of what he could do over a full season is...not being able to make it through a full season to begin with.
It’s the annoyance of having to deal with the uncertainty again. When will he return? What will his work load have to be when he does? Will he be as effective as we’re hoping? Spring training is supposed to answer the questions, not add to them.
It’s not as bad as it could be. It’s not game over. It’s March. He’s young. He’ll be back. He still throws hard. He’s still got the stuff to be the best reliever on this team.
It’s just another bit of bad news, for a pitcher who’s had to deal with far too much of it.