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Matt Harvey has been a different pitcher for the Orioles in the second half

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After a brutal first half of the season, the pitcher affectionately known as the Dark Knight has stepped up his game recently.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde takes the ball from Matt Harvey.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde takes the ball from Matt Harvey in the seventh inning of a recent game against the Tigers.
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

When the Orioles signed Matt Harvey this past offseason, it was the type of low-risk move that’s unsurprising for a team in rebuild. With an unproven rotation behind ace John Means, the Birds had a lot of innings up for grabs. And after pitching for four teams in the three prior years, Matt Harvey needed a fresh opportunity.

The Dark Knight, as he was known in New York, threw a total of 71 innings between the Los Angeles Angeles and the Kansas City Royals from 2019-2020. He spent the past offseason working out at the Baseball Performance Center in New Jersey, a facility known for its analytical and tech-supported approach to pitching.

Armed with a new focus on spin rate and body mechanics, Harvey had a decent start to the season. In his first seven games, the right-hander registered a 3.60 ERA and .250 BAA even though he wasn’t missing many bats. He only struck out 25 batters in his first 35 innings pitched.

But things went downhill from there. In his next 11 starts, he put up an 11.20 ERA and .374 BAA. Still, the O’s stuck with him, hoping that Harvey could rediscover a fraction of the form that made him a standout pitcher in the National League from 2012-2015.

It’s been a remarkable second-half turnaround for the righty, who had a 7.70 ERA in the first half.

A midseason respite must have been just what Harvey needed, because when the O’s returned from the All-Star break they were greeted by a brand new pitcher. He threw 18.1 scoreless innings coming out of the break, slashing a run and a half off his ERA to bring it down to 6.20.

A key to his recent success has been newfound control. In the first half, he averaged roughly 3.0 BB/9. During his three-game scoreless streak, Harvey allowed just one walk (about 0.5 BB/9).

Following the right-hander’s third scoreless outing in a row, O’s beat writer Joe Trezza relayed these words from Harvey:

I’m not trying to pitch the way I used to, which was mostly fastballs and sliders...Pitching backwards, just trusting my stuff and trying to mix things up. Being unpredictable. When I was throwing 97-100 mph with a 92-93 mph slider, things were a little easier. Now it’s about pitching, pounding the zone, getting guys off balance. That’s been the biggest difference.

Like all good things, Harvey’s scoreless innings streak came to an end yesterday against the Yankees. It lasted a total of 21.2 innings before the Yanks scored a pair of runs off the right-hander last night in the fourth.

Harvey was removed after that inning with a pitch count of only 63. His final line was four innings, three hits, two runs, two walks, and one strikeout. He was able to minimize the damage in his final inning but didn’t return to the mound for the fifth due to injury.

A closer look at his numbers this season shows some bad luck, considering his .364 BABIP in the first half. That number has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum in the second half (.189), not counting his start last night. And despite entering yesterday’s matchup with a 6.20 ERA, his FIP was only 4.24 at the start of play.

All of this begs the question, who is the real Matt Harvey? It’s got to be somewhere in between the two faces we’ve seen so far in 2021.

What gets me is how people thought that Harvey could’ve been flipped for a few pieces at the trade deadline if he had performed well early on. As if one good half from a pitcher way past his prime would net any kind of impactful return.

It’s irrelevant now with the deadline passed, but I never understood that point of view. The best-case scenario has always been Harvey recapturing a bit of his former success while eating up innings and providing a little excitement for the Orioles’ faithful. To expect anything more, like a decent prospect or two in trade, seemed like pie in the sky.

In his post-game press conference last night, manager Brandon Hyde said that Matt Harvey’s early exit was because of a ‘tweaked’ knee. Here’s hoping it’s nothing serious. But it’s a genuine concern because of how little Harvey has pitched in the past few years. In 2020, he collected a total of 11.2 innings in the majors. He has already eclipsed that total in 2021, throwing 98.1 innings, and there are still roughly two months left in the season.

We’ll have to wait and see if Harvey can return to the mound for his next scheduled start.