The strange secret to this Nat's success in '22

November 15th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Hunter Harvey adopted a new mindset that led to him thriving out of the Nationals’ bullpen in 2022.

“My mentality this year is, I'm not trying to strike people out,” Harvey said late in the season.

Wait, not trying to strike out hitters? But the 27-year-old right-hander had the best season of his career.

That’s because instead of focusing on the number of punchouts recorded, Harvey focused on the number of pitches thrown.

“I’m thinking four or less pitches to every hitter,” Harvey said.

The approach was suggested to Harvey years ago by his father and bullpen veteran, Bryan Harvey. The fellow righty saw its implementation lead to his first All-Star selection and the 1991 Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.

“It kind of took off for him,” Harvey said. “I’ve been trying to burn that into my mind mentally -- stop trying to make every pitch the best strikeout pitch and let them hit it, let them put it in play, let them see what they can do.”

Harvey attempted to put his father’s plan in motion when he transitioned from a starting pitcher in the Minors, but a series of injuries made it challenging to establish consistency. He pitched only 23 2/3 innings his first three years in the Majors.

“In the past, like even the Minor Leagues, when I went up, I was like, ‘Alright, I'm striking this guy for sure. I want to punch him out. That's what I want to do,’” Harvey said. “But it always seemed to me, I’d throw way more pitches than normal. … For me, it’s all about just being relaxed and not trying to do too much. In the past, I’ve had that problem of trying to make everything too good -- and it makes it worse.”

This season, Harvey overcame an early IL stint to toss a career-high 39 1/3 innings. He rejoined the ‘pen on July 13 to become one of the Nationals’ most reliable arms. From his return on, a healthy Harvey threw 617 pitches to 148 batters for an average of 4.17 pitches per batter faced.

Harvey finished the 2022 season with a 2.52 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings rate. He did not allow a home run until his 30th appearance of the season on Sept. 13, and he held opponents scoreless in his final eight games down the stretch.

After being claimed off waivers from the Giants last March, Harvey is poised to head into Spring Training in 2023 as a key member of the Nationals’ bullpen. With closer Tanner Rainey sidelined by Tommy John surgery, Harvey, Kyle Finnegan and Carl Edwards Jr. give Washington late-inning dependability for next season.

“I don't know what clicked this year that just all of a sudden, like, ‘Here it is, hit it. I don’t even care. I want you to hit it. I’m going to throw it where you can hit it. I want you to put it in play,’” Harvey said. “Since I’ve done that, it’s like everything’s just got better. Everything feels better coming out. I’ve thrown more strikes than I have [before]. It just feels good.”