Orioles right-hander Hunter Harvey on his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox.
Hunter Harvey’s major league debut Saturday prompted him to think about all it took to make it to the Fenway Park mound. It pushed his father to remember his own debut three decades prior. And it made Orioles manager Brandon Hyde reflect on the past and consider what that could mean for the future.
Harvey, the Orioles’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, made his long-awaited major league debut with a scoreless eighth inning Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, striking out two around a walk while routinely reaching 99 mph with a right arm that has battled its share of injuries.
He missed parts of three seasons with an elbow injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery. Seemingly healthy in 2018, he suffered a shoulder injury avoiding a line drive in Double-A Bowie’s dugout. But the 24-year-old entered Fenway Park on Saturday still carrying much of the excitement that made him the Orioles’ top prospect early in his professional career.
“Everything that’s slowed me up to this point, all the injuries, all the negative stuff I had in my past,” Harvey said, “to overcome that and finally reach my dream has been awesome.”
His father, former major leaguer Bryan Harvey, has been along for the six-year ride. Another 12-hour one — a drive that took him from Kinston, North Carolina, to Boston with Harvey’s girlfriend, Summer, along from Baltimore on — seemed like nothing to watch his son’s debut after the years of injuries.
“That was like a snowball rolling down the hill,” Bryan Harvey said. “After he got sent down out of spring training in ’15, it was one thing after another. He’s battled through everything. Last year was a freak thing. There’s been a couple freak things in this. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. He’s battled back. He never gave up. He worked his butt off to get here. It’s happy now.”
He couldn’t help but draw comparisons to his own debut. Like his son’s, it came in the final inning of a loss on a Saturday. On May 16, 1987, Bryan Harvey made his major league debut against the Orioles, striking out Cal Ripken Jr. and retiring Eddie Murray and Ray Knight around a walk to Fred Lynn.
Like his father, Hunter Harvey began his career by facing one of the game’s best hitters. His first pitch was a 98-mph strike to J.D. Martinez, who grounded out on a 99-mph pitch. After a walk to Andrew Benintendi, he threw high 90s fastballs past Christian Vazquez and Mitch Moreland for consecutive strikeouts, the second keeping him and his father from having identical lines.
They met on the field after the game and hugged, Bryan finally able to quell his nerves.
“My dad used to tell me, ‘I walked a hole in the floor last night,’ ” Bryan Harvey said. “I said, ‘What were you nervous about? I’m the one pitching.’ But I know the feeling. My heart was about to beat out of my chest.”
The nerves weren’t as high as what he figures they could’ve been had Harvey’s debut come as a starter. He was long viewed as one before he moved to the bullpen in mid-June, both as part of an experiment to see how his stuff played and to manage his innings coming off the series of injury-shortened seasons. Including Saturday, Harvey has a 2.70 ERA as a reliever in 16 outings across Double-A, Triple-A and the majors.
“His performance and stuff ticked up out of the bullpen, and also, he expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the role,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said. “It wasn’t something that we wanted to necessarily convert him to a reliever, and whether that ends up being the permanent case, we’ll just have to see how everything goes.”
Serving as a reliever created another similarity between Harvey and his father, who made all of his 322 career appearances out of the bullpen.
“It’s easier for me to watch him be a reliever; he’s not out there as long,” Bryan Harvey said. “I was hoping that he could stay a starter, but he just struggled in that role this year. He’d have a good outing, a bad outing. When he went to the bullpen, after his outing, he called and said, ‘Dad, my mind was so much freer tonight.’ I said, ‘That’s what we’ve been looking for all year.’ He said, ‘Well, as a starter, I’m trying to figure out how to go seven, eight innings, and now, I just go throw it.’ And it’s working.”
Although Harvey became the 54th player the Orioles have used this year, he was perhaps the first call-up that evoked excitement over the next steps of the organization’s rebuild. Hyde certainly felt that way, reflecting on his days with the Chicago Cubs when the franchise had its first promotions that eventually built toward a World Series title.
“It’s fun to watch young, exciting players get here, and you see their tools,” Hyde said. “I take it back to ’14 second half when [Javier] Baez and [Jorge] Soler and Kyle Hendricks came up. It was like you couldn’t wait to watch them play. And Hunter Harvey is one of those guys who it’s going to be really fun to watch him come out of the bullpen. You can see a bright future there, so that’s why it’s really gratifying.”