Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey talks about being more aggressive on the mound with his pitches.
Matt Harvey has tried to integrate himself in an Orioles clubhouse full of younger players whose resumes lack the accomplishments his does by bringing in a jovial attitude each morning. On Wednesday, manager Brandon Hyde and general manager Mike Elias greeted him without reciprocating it.
“I came in, they were kind of messing with me a little bit, pretending that they were a little upset and then possibly telling me some bad news,” Harvey said. “Then they switched their faces around and told me the good news.”
The good news being that Harvey had his contract selected and was joining the Orioles’ 40-man roster, a move made official Thursday that effectively assures he will be a member of the team when it opens the 2021 season next week in Boston.
“Whenever you can give people good news in this business, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Hyde said. “For a guy that has worked so hard and had a really good camp, done everything right, the career that he’s had, ... it was a really special feeling to give him the news yesterday morning that we were going to add him to the roster. We had a little bit of fun with it. I had the coaches in the other room with the door closed, ready to give him a big bear hug after the news.”
Harvey signed a minor league deal with the Orioles days into spring training, believing the analytically based makeover the organization’s pitching program has undergone under director of pitching Chris Holt would enable him to perform closer to the level he reached a half-decade ago. In his first full season with the New York Mets, Harvey started the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field and finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. Two years later, he was the ace of a Mets staff that pitched New York into the World Series. He completed his age-26 season with a career 2.53 ERA and the eyes of the baseball world upon him.
Today, he’s on the verge of 32 years old, with a birthday Saturday, and can’t help but celebrate cracking Baltimore’s roster.
“When you start an All-Star Game and then you pitch in a World Series, I think the last thing you ever think of is how excited you’ll be to make a team again,” Harvey said. “I’d like to say it was a good early birthday present, and it’s probably one of the best I’ve had.”
The Orioles will be his fifth team in the past four seasons. Since that World Series appearance, he’s posted a 5.82 ERA with a WHIP over 1.500. Harvey said he’s spent recent seasons in particular “searching all week for the proper mechanics, searching for that feel-good moment where things click and you feel like you’re on your way,” but it never came.
That’s changed this spring. With the work he’s done with Holt and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes, plus the lessons gleaned from a few days at a New Jersey pitching facility just before camp, Harvey thinks he can recapture some of his past self. Yet, he also seeks more than that.
Harvey has said that Holt has caught him watching video of his mid-2010s outings and had to remind him he’s not that pitcher anymore and that pining over what he once was won’t make his present any better.
“The big thing that Chris Holt likes to say is you should never look back and try and be just as good as you were before,” Harvey said. “He’s tried to emphasize that, with some new weapons, with smarter pitching, maybe I could be even better, at least strive to be better.
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“In my mind, if I can prepare and make sure everything is lined up to be successful, then who knows what’s going to happen? … I’m not going to try and be as good as I was. I’m trying to be better. I think that’s what you’ll see on the mound.”
But there are aspects of his past he believes he needs to reacquire to take another step forward. Although his fastball lacks the fire it once did — averaging about 2.5 mph less in 2020 than it did in 2015, per Statcast — Harvey said recapturing the aggressiveness he showed with each of his pitches and the confidence he carried along with them will be vital to his success with Baltimore.
“Really letting everything rip, as you could say, and being super aggressive,” he said. “I think that’s the next part. That’s the way I was when I was at my best. I will always remember that, just being super aggressive with all pitches. I think that’s on its way.”
Harvey said he would continue to work on that in a bullpen session scheduled for Thursday and hopefully carry it into his next in-game appearance Sunday, a day after John Means will have his final outing before starting Opening Day. Hyde has been clear that the Orioles’ plans for their pitching staff remain in flux, so where Harvey will slot into the regular-season rotation behind Means is not yet clear.
But barring injury, it became guaranteed Thursday that he’ll be on the team. That’s no joke.
“From Day One coming in, I feel like things improved every single time out, whether it was bullpens or out in the games, things just got better and better,” Harvey said. “I definitely worked as hard as I could, and that obviously paid off.”