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Harvey acknowledges he has to pitch 'smarter'

@RhettBollinger
July 19, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Any optimism regarding Matt Harvey's return to the rotation after his season-long struggles and upper back strain dissipated on Thursday night, as he was hit hard by the Astros in a 6-2 loss at Angel Stadium. • Box score The right-hander made it through six innings but surrendered

ANAHEIM -- Any optimism regarding Matt Harvey's return to the rotation after his season-long struggles and upper back strain dissipated on Thursday night, as he was hit hard by the Astros in a 6-2 loss at Angel Stadium.

Box score

The right-hander made it through six innings but surrendered six runs on seven hits and five walks while recording just one strikeout and three swinging strikes. It was yet another rough start for Harvey, who has a 7.09 ERA in 12 outings this year after joining the Angels on a one-year deal worth $11 million.

"Just a couple bad pitches, a couple stupid pitches that I made, thinking I can still throw it by people," Harvey said. "When you're out there and you're in the zone, you always remember what you used to be able to do. If I'm a little bit smarter, it's probably a 3-2 game or a 4-2 game, and we have a little bit of a better chance to get back in there today."

Harvey was much better against the Mariners on Saturday after missing nearly two months with an upper back strain, but against Houston's better lineup, his old problems resurfaced. Harvey gave up way too much hard contact, including two homers and eight batted balls that had an exit velocity of at least 100 mph, according to Statcast.

"Houston has a very good offensive lineup," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "They take advantage of mistakes. They are very selective hitters. That's what they did tonight. They laid off pitches on the corners and they waited for something in the middle, and when they did, they got hits."

Harvey is expected to remain in the rotation, but he'll have to turn it around in a hurry to keep his spot, especially with the Angels trying to remain in the American League Wild Card race. Additionally, once Harvey reaches his 15th start, he will receive a bonus of $250,000 for each start thereafter, up to $3 million.

Harvey's struggles were evident right away, as the Astros scored in a hurry, keyed by a two-run double from Yordan Alvarez on an 0-2 slider with two outs in the first. It left the bat at 110.4 mph, per Statcast. Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley both walked that inning on a 3-2 pitches that were close to the zone, especially a 3-2 fastball to Brantley that was called just outside by home-plate umpire Alan Porter.

"It was a really close pitch," catcher Dustin Garneau said. "It definitely turns this game around for us. They scored two that inning. Other than that, I think Matt pitched better than the scoreboard told us. He just missed a couple pitches and they didn't miss."

It was more of the same in a three-run third, with George Springer leading off with a homer on a 1-2 fastball, Yuli Gurriel smacking an RBI double and Josh Reddick plating a run with an RBI single. Harvey later served up a solo shot to Alex Bregman in the fifth on a 2-0 fastball.

"When I got 1-2 on Springer, I tried to throw a 98-mph fastball on the outside corner," Harvey said. "Obviously, I can't do that anymore. The one Bregman hit for a home run, 2-0, remembering what it was like to be able to go inside with aggression and break someone's bat. Obviously he's probably not the right guy to do that with. I just need to be a little bit smarter as far as pitch-calling in certain counts, and in those situations, be a little more fine."

Pujols exits with minor hamstring injury

Harvey didn't receive much help from the offense, however, as the Angels didn't get their first hit off lefty Wade Miley until Brian Goodwin doubled with two outs in the fifth.

The Angels didn't score until the sixth on a sacrifice fly from Justin Upton and an RBI single from Albert Pujols. Pujols, though, left the game in the top of the eighth with left hamstring tightness, getting replaced at first base by rookie Matt Thaiss. Pujols will not undergo an MRI exam and is considered day to day.

"We don't think it's anything major," Ausmus said. "We think it's more of a cramp. We were concerned it was some kind of a strain but we don't think it is. We don't expect it to be long-term, at all. We don't expect him to miss much, if any, time."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.