BOSTON — Sitting at his corner locker in Fenway Park’s visiting clubhouse with the mullet he’s been grooming since spring training flowing to his shoulders, Orioles right-hander Hunter Harvey still couldn’t quite believe his past couple of days.
Harvey learned Friday night that he had been promoted to the majors, boarded a 5 a.m. flight to Boston on Saturday morning and made his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox that night. The Orioles’ first-round draft pick in 2013 pitched a scoreless eighth inning with a pair of strikeouts, consistently throwing 99 mph.
Given that a series of injuries forced a six-year wait between his draft day and his debut, Harvey, 24, remained amazed at how far he had come.
“It’s really just a dream come true,” Harvey said before Sunday’s game. “Something I’ve been working for my whole life and then through the injuries and everything, just trying to battle back.
“I don’t think it’s really set in yet. Still trying to process all that and just try to keep going.”
Two former major league pitchers who also dealt with injuries were impressed with what they saw. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and former No. 1 overall pick Ben McDonald served as color analysts during Harvey’s debut for the Orioles’ television and radio broadcasts, respectively.
“He had a great arm,” Palmer said. “Can you imagine what’s going on in your body and you get a chance, after 2013, all those years, to get to come and pitch at Fenway Park? It doesn’t matter what the score is. You know the adrenaline’s pumping and all that. He’s got a great arm, and as long as he can stay healthy, he’s got major league stuff.”
Palmer battled a rotator cuff and tendinitis early in his career but returned to become a three-time Cy Young Award winner for the Orioles. McDonald had nagging shoulder injuries throughout his career after the Orioles took him with the first pick of the 1989 draft, with a torn rotator cuff eventually forcing him to retire at 30 years old.
Harvey missed most or all of three seasons with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and suffered a shoulder injury last year while trying to avoid a foul ball in the dugout during a minor league game.
An injury’s greatest challenge comes mentally, both former pros said. Palmer said he thought his rotator cuff injury would end his career, while McDonald battled the pressures that come with being a first-round pick. They’re certain Harvey faced the same demons.
“You start to wonder, ‘Man, is this really for me? Is this really what I was meant to do?’ ” McDonald said. “You know the kid’s tough mentally to be able to go through that, to keep pushing forward and ultimately get to where he’s gonna be. In some ways, it was crazy to think about it then, but that might be the best thing for him because he appreciates, I promise you, where he is. He appreciates what he’s come through, what he’s gone through, how he’s had to push through that kind of stuff. From a mental standpoint, he may be tougher than what people think because of what he’s fought through.
“I’m happy for him. It’s just a special time for a kid who’s fought through a lot.”
Harvey began the year as a starter but moved to relief midway through June as the Orioles experimented with a role change while also managing his innings. He threw on consecutive days only once in the minors, his final two outings before getting promoted.
The Orioles will continue to be cautious with Harvey as he approaches an undisclosed innings limit, but it’s difficult not to get excited about the potential he showed Saturday night.
“The moment didn’t appear to be too big for him,” McDonald said. “He looked right at home. I remember how nervous I was [in my debut]. Couldn’t hardly breathe.
“Hopefully, he can stay healthy because he’s a difference-maker at the back end of a bullpen.”
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Said Palmer: “It’s just good to see him back. That’s what No. 1 draft choices are supposed to throw like.”