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Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey making first career relief appearance to control innings, try out new role

Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey making first career relief appearance to control innings, try out new role
Orioles pitcher Hunter Harvey plays catch in spring training. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Orioles pitching prospect Hunter Harvey, who hasn't stayed healthy this deep into a season since 2014, pitched out of the bullpen for the first time in his career Friday night at Double-A Bowie. The change was made to keep his innings under control and possibly give him another path to the majors, and if Friday’s performance was any indication, it’s an intriguing possibility.

Harvey, the Orioles' 2013 first-round draft pick, pitched his way to the top of the farm system rankings in 2014, but dealt with injuries that kept him off the mound on any kind of regular basis since then. He said the goal hasn't changed in terms of wanting to get through this season healthy.

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But Harvey, 24, welcomed the news that he wouldn't be in Bowie's starting rotation for the time being, believing there's a chance to maybe find a role that maximizes his live right arm and keeps his major league future bright. His three scoreless innings with four strikeouts certainly support that notion.

"I think it's both: development, and there's a chance I can make it up there in the bullpen," Harvey said. "You always need some bullpen arms, and I'd be fine pitching wherever. Bullpen will be fun. I'll be following in my dad's footsteps a little bit. That'll be cool.

"I've got [63 2/3] innings in four years. I had [32 1/3] last year. So I know they didn't want me to increase on that too much, and they want me to be able to pitch for the whole season. I'm going to come out of the bullpen for I don't know how long. I think it'll be good. I liked it in spring training. I know this is a little different, but I like it."

His bullpen debut Friday proved to be a success, as Harvey came in for the sixth inning after five scoreless, one-hit innings from left-hander Zac Lowther. Harvey kept Trenton quiet with three scoreless innings of his own. Using a fastball that was 95-97 mph and constantly down in the zone, plus a slider he often buried and an 89-90 mph splitter that kept hitters off-balance, Harvey struck out four and walked one as Bowie won, 3-0.

That's been the arsenal he’s teased for years, and didn’t exactly produce results in the rotation this year, even if it’s always been there.

In his last start June 7 in Portland, Harvey allowed eight runs on nine hits in four innings, continuing a stretch in which he alternated good outings and bad ones evenly over nine games.

"The consistency has just been the hardest thing to get back," Harvey said. "My body, every time I've gone out and started, I've felt great. My body has felt great. Arm has felt great. Even after 90 pitches, I've felt awesome. But the biggest thing is each day, it's either I've got my best stuff or I've got my worst stuff. I can't get the in-between yet. I'm just trying to battle and figure that part out."

Baysox pitching coach Kennie Steenstra said the numbers — a 5.77 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP — don't indicate it, but Harvey has been far better this year than he has at any point in his two years with Bowie.

"The home runs have hurt him, he's gotten into some situations in some bad counts where he's kind of just laid some fastballs in there and gotten hurt by it. But overall, the stuff is way better this year," Steenstra said. "Everything's better. Just the ability to bounce back. We've had the fifth, sixth inning where he's still throwing 96 in some of these starts. Now, it's a matter of refining the command, sequencing of pitches, and that's probably the biggest part where he still struggles a little bit, is figuring out what pitch to throw in specific counts."

Steenstra said a move like this was always planned for Harvey at some point, with his season schedule calling for him to also do some tandem starting and opening.

"Eventually, we'll get him in there with runners on base," Steenstra said. "[Friday night], we're going to try to get him in there clean. But it's one of those things where the more roles he can show to be more versatile, who knows what could happen?"

Because Harvey is on the Orioles' 40-man roster and has already used his second option this year, there's an aspect of this move that's also made with a possible big league role in mind.

The Orioles have done something similar with right-hander Dillon Tate, who was acquired in last July’s Zack Britton trade and returned from an undisclosed injury earlier this year to pitch in a bullpen role with newfound success.

Tate, 25, has made five relief appearances around his injured list stint, and has allowed two earned runs in 10 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts and a 0.968 WHIP in relief.

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Steenstra made a connection to what happened with the Orioles on Friday and getting pitchers like Harvey and Tate in a place where they can do multiple things and start having success. With Andrew Cashner unable to start and the Orioles needing bullpen help as well, they called up Triple-A right-hander Luis Ortiz to start and left-hander Josh Rogers to relieve.

Other pitchers who have gone up and down on the 40-man roster include Branden Kline, Tanner Scott and Jimmy Yacabonis. Tate and Harvey haven't been considered for that, but having multiple possible roles might make it more palatable for the Orioles to call them up when the time comes.

"Both of those guys being on the roster and having that ability to go up there, maybe pitch out of the bullpen or maybe be an opener and pitch in that situation — just like what happened today," Steenstra said. "They didn't have a starter today. If those two are ready to be ready for a role like that, maybe they get that call.

“I think the way baseball is kind of shifting around, where roles are becoming maybe a little less defined, it's always good for guys like that, especially ones that are on the roster, to be able to do some versatile things."

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