Hunter Harvey, the Orioles’ star-crossed right-hander who has been sidelined with seemingly an injury a year since he was their top draft pick in 2013, is facing another spell on the injured list. He will almost assuredly start the season on the injured list after leaving his outing Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies with a left oblique strain suffered on his first pitch of his inning.
For the 26-year-old right-hander, it’s another obstacle to him settling in as a reliable major leaguer after finally reaching the big leagues at the end of 2019. That year, he transitioned to the bullpen at Double-A Bowie and was a major part of the Orioles’ relief corps’ best stretch in August before a tired arm shut him down for September.
Forearm soreness cost him the beginning of the 2020 season as well, meaning Harvey has 15 major league innings to his name over two seasons. He remains rookie-eligible, a distinction he’d surely like to shed at some point.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, asked how Harvey’s injury would impact their bullpen plans, said only that it opens the door for someone else to break camp with the team. It’s probably more true that the team doesn’t really have set bullpen plans, but judging by that assessment, it’s clear that Harvey was a locked-in part of those plans.
So, too, are players like Tanner Scott, Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, and probably César Valdez.
After that, things are a little more murky, given the Orioles may decide to load up on long relief early or possibly even use a six-man rotation out of spring training.
Here are some ways Harvey’s injury could impact the team for Opening Day, which is less than three weeks away against the Boston Red Sox:
A spot to break camp for a familiar face
While Dillon Tate, Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins Sr. were all part of the Orioles’ bullpen for most if not all of the 2020 season, the construction of their pitching staff this year might ultimately have made it hard for all three to break camp with the team before Harvey’s injury.
Even if the Orioles went with a 14-man pitching staff, it’s likely that at least two of those bullpen arms would have been long relievers from a group including Jorge López, Wade LeBlanc, Bruce Zimmermann, Ashton Goudeau and others.
Someone who had success in the much-improved bullpen of 2020 might have started the year at the Bowie camp simply because of the numbers game. Taking Harvey out of the mix might mean that someone in that group who would have been left without a spot out of spring training now has a chance to win a job.
Another long reliever to make the team
Considering how little stock the Orioles seem to put in spring training results, it’s also possible that the pecking order of short-outing relievers is set and they’ll use Harvey’s spot in the bullpen to add more length to a staff that could be challenged early in the season to meet the demands of a full season after a shortened 2020.
The list of starting candidates, or at least those who are being stretched out, includes one lock in John Means, two near-locks in Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, and then a diverse list of pitchers including Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey, LeBlanc, Zimmermann, López, Goudeau, Thomas Eshelman and Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells. Others could possibly be included in that mix.
If the Orioles go with a five-man rotation, then at least two of those pitchers and maybe three could be with the team as long relievers to start the season. They could also be part of the taxi squad and prepare at the Bowie site for when they’re needed. But especially early in the season, the Orioles might want to be covered against a short start that could tax their staff at a time when they can’t afford it.
A potential 40-man roster spot for nonroster pitcher
Oblique injuries vary in severity, but the kind Hyde described Harvey as having seemed like it wasn’t just a tweak. That could mean it’s weeks before Harvey is healthy enough to start throwing again, and at that point he’d require a ground-up progression to build his arm strength.
With last year’s forearm injury, Harvey began throwing again July 30 and wasn’t activated off the injured list until Aug. 30. If his buildup time is going to be a month from when he’s healthy, the Orioles may well place him on the 60-day injured list to open a 40-man roster spot to add either Harvey, Hernández or LeBlanc to the 40-man roster to break camp with the team.
Designating Harvey to go on that injured list would make him eligible to be activated in mid-May if the assignment is backdated to the date of injury. The most aggressive timeline for Harvey’s return might have him ready to pitch in major league games before that, if the injury is of the least serious variety of an oblique injury. There’s no indication of how severe it is, though.
The Orioles will likely take every roster spot they can get at the end of camp, what with the possibility of waiver claims and maybe three players to add who are already with the organization. Chris Davis (back) is possibly a candidate for the 60-day injured list as well, as his assignment could be backdated to March 1, and the Orioles could also return their Rule 5 picks to create roster spots as well.
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