When Hunter Harvey was part of the Orioles bullpen last year, they were demonstrably better as a group.
The coronavirus shutdown means he might be able to add his electric fastball to the mix for the full two-month season come Opening Day on July 24.
“I think we were going to play it by ear through a 162-game season,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Now, with a little bit of a shorter sprint season, I’d like to use him as much as possible but not obviously push the limits on him.”
Harvey, a 2013 first-round pick, has been beset by injuries that stunted his development. He made it to the majors after becoming a reliever full-time in 2020, but has been waiting to have the reigns taken off for years.
“A 60-game season just makes it a little easier on them, not having to draw something up for me. Especially with my past and all the injury stuff, It’s kind of — I don’t want to say it’s a great thing, but it’s almost like a blessing in disguise a little bit, just to kind of ease into this role and get this role, kind of make it a little easier,” Harvey said. “It kind of helped in some sense.”
All that means Harvey can help the Orioles more often than the three-week spell he had last year in the bullpen before his season ended early because of a tired arm.
He debuted in a low-leverage situation Aug. 17, then was thrust into the eighth-inning to hold a lead in his next outing Aug. 20. He was a set-up man for 10 days, and the Orioles bullpen fell into place in that time, pitching to a 2.89 ERA before Harvey wasn’t available anymore.
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Outside of that 10-day span, their collective ERA was 5.89.
Adding Harvey to the late-inning mix can take stress off the established back-end relievers such as Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier. Saving Harvey for holding leads might spare the Orioles some blemishes on their record in 2020.
Based on his stuff alone, Harvey is the Orioles’ future closer. Outings like his inning in the team’s intrasquad game Wednesday, when he was a little erratic coming out of the bullpen (albeit in a 1-2-3 inning), show there’s work to get him to that point.
Harvey, however, feels good about where his stuff is after staying on the mound and honing his stuff through the shutdown.
“I was throwing a bunch during the quarantine and I didn’t think I ever got behind,” Harvey said. “If anything, I stayed ahead of the curve. I would say it’s all game-ready.”
Hyde said Harvey looks great and feels great early in camp, and the manager is going to do all he can to keep it that way.
“He’s a really important part of the Orioles organization going forward and I’m going to do what’s right for Hunter Harvey,” Hyde said.