Boston — Matt Harvey’s Orioles debut showed that he’s no longer the fire-breathing, bat-missing ace of yore but instead a pitcher who fits in with his new club.
He certainly was better than he has been recently, and might even be good enough to surprise this season.
Harvey pitched well early before some bad luck shortened his day, and a scrappy Orioles offense did enough off impressive Red Sox rookie Tanner Houck to earn a 4-2 win Saturday at Fenway Park.
“I was so impressed with Matt,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I thought he had really good stuff, a really good fastball from the start. A good sinker to go with his four-seamer, I loved the slider today. I thought he threw some good changeups. He showed the competitor that he is. He’s throwing strikes, he worked ahead in the count, kept guys off balance. A really impressive first start for him.
“These are not easy conditions to play — it’s cold. And he was great.”
Veteran closer César Valdez endured a rocky ninth inning to get there, but with a second straight win to start the season, the Orioles (2-0) have a chance for a season-opening sweep.
But such is the optimism around the rebuilding Orioles that new reliever Adam Plutko is setting his sights even higher: “We’re going 162-0, obviously,” he joked after a spotless debut with the team.
Win No. 2, though, began with Harvey, the former New York Mets All-Star who at age 32 cited the Orioles’ data-driven pitching program and philosophies as why he chose the Orioles as the latest stop on his journey to salvage his career.
There wasn’t much new-school nuance to what he did early Saturday. Harvey mixed his pitches well, made sure his misses weren’t over the heart of the plate, and worked the edges in sync with catcher Pedro Severino to great effect.
Still, there was traffic. He worked around a two-out double that left fielder Austin Hays lost in the sun in the first inning, and stranded a runner at second in the second as well.
Considering the Red Sox put runners on second and third with one out in the fourth inning, their one run that frame was a success. But in Harvey’s fifth and final inning, what could have been the final out of the inning on a comebacker instead bounced off his leg into an unoccupied part of the infield, allowing Kevin Plawecki to score from second base.
“I think getting into a couple jams and then being able to get out of it, especially early in the game, I think that was huge for us to kind of get to the point where we did and win the game, eventually” Harvey said. “Obviously I’m kicking myself to not get out of that fifth and deeper in the game, but overall, I think it was a solid first start and to try and build off that next time.”
Harvey left having allowed two earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings, with his fastball averaging 92.9 mph. He said that he carried over the two-seam fastball he introduced in spring training into his first regular season start, and succeeded at “mixing things up” and moving his ball around the strike zone to keep hitters from being able to time him up.
“That’s the biggest thing we worked on in the spring and kind of transferred that over to today,” Harvey said.
Plutko finished Harvey’s fifth inning and added a scoreless sixth and seventh before passing the game off to Dillon Tate, who set the Red Sox down in order on 11 pitches in the eighth inning.
Valdez, who earned Friday’s save and about whom Hyde sheepishly admitted he “lied a little bit” when he said he would try not to use him before Saturday’s game, put the first two batters on before stranding them in a tense ninth inning.
How they scored
Houck kept the Orioles largely off balance early, but they broke through in the fourth inning, bit by bit.
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Rio Ruiz earned a two-out walk and went to third on an errant throw on an Austin Hays infield single. Hays advanced to second on a passed ball and scored when Maikel Franco singled off Houck to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Boston halved it in the bottom of the inning, but Severino doubled and scored on an infield single by Anthony Santander in the fifth inning to make it 3-1 Orioles.
In the seventh inning, Freddy Galvis singled, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a single by Cedric Mullins, and scored when Trey Mancini lined out to right field.
Hyde said: “It’s really satisfying to win close, well-pitched ballgames. And being able to take advantage of some opportunities, having good at-bats, up and down the order, good defense in important times — that’s how you win in this league. That’s how you win late in the year, that’s how you win in the postseason, by pitching, playing solid defensively and being able to take advantage of opportunities and string good at-bats together. For the most part, we’ve done that for a couple days.”
Severino and Mullins led the way with two hits apiece.
Pleasant debut for Plutko
Plutko, acquired from Cleveland a week ago to add to the Orioles’ bulk pitching depth, did just that in his debut with the club Saturday.
The 29-year-old right-hander recorded seven outs while allowing just one single and did so efficiently, needing just 33 pitches.