Depending on which measure one focuses on, Matt Harvey entered his first start of the second half as either the worst statistical pitcher in the game or the unluckiest.
Neither designation applied to the Harvey who pitched the Orioles to a 5-0 win over the Royals at Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday, giving them a rare series win coming out of the All-Star break.
Harvey, who entered with a 7.70 ERA in 76 innings for the Orioles (30-62), pitched six shutout innings and allowed three hits with one walk while striking out two for his best start of the season and his team’s best start since John Means’ May 5 no-hitter. He was the first Orioles starter to complete six innings in the last 18 games, and it’s the team’s first shutout since Means’ performance in Seattle.
“He was really good today,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That was awesome. It’s been a while since we had a six-inning start, and he let it all out in that sixth inning. He pretty much emptied it there, but really happy with how we pitched today with everybody.”
For most of this season, one in which Harvey is a frequently-used starter after pitching sparingly for the host Royals in 2020, he’s been left to bemoan a big inning or poor luck that’s tanked his starts. He has often had a point.
While his 7.70 ERA is the highest of anyone with 70 innings pitched this year, so too was the difference between that ERA and Harvey’s fielding-independent pitching (FIP), which calculates ERA based on factors a pitcher can control. His FIP was 4.72 entering Sunday, nearly three full runs less than his ERA.
Opponents entered Sunday with a .311 batting average on ground balls against Harvey, whose emphasis of his two-seam fastball means teams have hit the ball on the ground off him often this year. The league-average on ground balls is .237.
None of that mattered much Sunday, when Harvey got most of his contact in the air and didn’t have any bad luck befall him. He needed just 28 pitches through three innings, then escaped a bases-loaded jam in a 24-pitch fourth inning. Harvey allowed a single the rest of the way and was greeted with hugs in the dugout after completing his six shutout innings and lowering his ERA to 7.13.
“It seems like every outing, there’s a stretch like there was today,” Harvey said. “I think there were some innings I’d go out and be dominant and throw two, three innings of really good baseball and then all of a sudden the wheels fall off. Having games like today, obviously, is a big confidence booster knowing that it’s still in there.”
Adam Plutko made a mess for Tanner Scott to clean up in the seventh before Cole Sulser pitched a scoreless eighth and Dillon Tate did the same in the ninth.
More good at-bats for Urías
Shortstop Ramón Urías continued his hot spell as the everyday shortstop with a pair of hits including a bases-loaded, two-run single to open the Orioles’ account in the third inning.
Trey Mancini added a run-scoring single in the fifth inning, and Ryan McKenna walked and scored from first on a two-out double by Austin Wynns in the sixth inning. Domingo Leyba doubled and scored on an error for the Orioles’ fifth run.