Harvey walks the 9th-inning tightrope

May 26th, 2023

WASHINGTON – Five seasons into his Major League career, is still learning. For every dominant relief appearance, there is a blank slate awaiting the right-hander the next time he steps on the mound. 

Less than 24 hours after shutting down the Padres’ heavy-hitting top of the order in the eighth inning of a Nationals win, Harvey had a different result Thursday afternoon after getting a save opportunity in the ninth. 

With two outs, Harvey surrendered a go-ahead three-run home run to lefty hitter Rougned Odor in the Nationals’ 8-6 loss at Nationals Park.

"You can't make mistakes in that situation,” said Harvey. “I did, and he won."

The Nationals had forged a five-run rally in the seventh inning to take a 6-5 lead. Manager Dave Martinez said the day before he liked how Harvey matched up versus specific parts of the Padres. pitched the eighth inning, and Harvey got the call for the ninth with No. 2 hitter Jake Cronenworth leading off.

"It's the same approach, you've just got to go get guys out,” Harvey said of the eighth inning vs. the ninth. “I didn't make as many mistakes last night. It only takes one to lose the game."

Harvey allowed back-to-back singles to Cronenworth and Juan Soto, before he locked in and fanned Xander Bogaerts and Matt Carpenter. His first pitch to Odor was a 99.3 mph fastball, high and inside, and Odor was ready when Harvey delivered a 98.6 mph fastball on the next pitch.

Harvey ended the inning by getting Brandon Dixon to fly out in an eight-pitch at-bat, but a second deficit proved one too many for the Nationals to overcome.

“That hurts a lot,” said catcher . “He was competing. He got those two outs, and Odor was ready for the fastball to hit it, and he got the hit.”

As the Nationals manage the closer role by committee, Harvey has converted on two of his six save opportunities. The son of former All-Star reliever Bryan Harvey, he earned his first Major League save on May 7 in Phoenix.

“He’s got the best teacher -- his dad did it for years,” Martinez said. “Some days with closers, that’s what happens. Some days, they’re going to get the best of the hitters. And some days, hitters are going to get the best of them. But mano a mano, right? He went up there, threw a 99 mph fastball, and the guy just beat him today.

“I want him to just keep his head up, because he’s going to get plenty more opportunities. Don’t worry about it. Keep using his stuff, his stuff was good. He gave up two hits to two good hitters, settled down, got two outs and then just couldn’t get that last out.”

With two outs in the eighth this season, Harvey has allowed two runs across 3 2/3 innings, compared to six runs allowed across 1 1/3 innings with two outs in ninth-inning situations. Harvey said when gets into a two-out scenario, he has to “keep going, make pitches.” He will be prepared to bounce back the next time the Nationals call on him in another high-leverage situation. 

“When he gets in those big moments like that and he gets to two outs, his job is not done,” Martinez said. “He’s got to stay focused, he’s got to still make pitches. I think that’s the biggest learning curve for him in those moments is understanding that, ‘With two outs, I’ve got to finish this next hitter and be done.’”