BALTIMORE -- Watching the ball sail over the left-field fence from his place in the Orioles' dugout at Camden Yards, chills consumed Hunter Harvey. Seeing Hanser Alberto round the bases, sending the O's on their way to Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Royals and Harvey's first MLB win, the rookie right-hander said it all felt fabricated.
“A wave went over me for a second, because it didn’t feel real,” Harvey said. “After the past couple years, everything I’ve gone through. ... This makes it easier to breathe, getting this stuff out of the way. It’s kind of crazy to think that it’s happening.”
It’s happening. Six years, multiple arm injuries and a whole lot of hurdles later, Harvey isn’t just in the big leagues. Two games in, he’s already emerged as one of the Orioles' higher-leverage relievers. And Harvey is thriving.
“The guy has been through a lot, and to be able to stand on the mound with presence, a no-fear attitude, I’m really into it,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s why I’m not worried about throwing him out there in any situation.”
That was clear by the eighth inning Tuesday, when Hyde called upon Harvey to preserve a 1-1 tie in the rookie right-hander’s second big league appearance. The O's had used a small-ball rally to knot the score the inning before, drawing back even after Dylan Bundy spent seven innings flummoxing Kansas City on just 83 pitches. But Hyde said Harvey was coming in regardless, “if we were down, tied or up a couple” because “the stuff plays for me.”
“I wanted to see it,” Hyde said.
Consider the skipper satisfied, the Orioles itching for more of the glimpse they got. His fastball eclipsing 99 mph several times per Statcast, Harvey breezed through a 1-2-3 inning, dazzling in his Camden Yards debut to set up Baltimore’s game-winning rally in the bottom of the frame.
Harvey won a 10-pitch battle with Nicky Lopez before fanning Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler, Merrifield swinging on a wicked breaking ball and Soler striking out looking on 99.8-mph heat on the outer black.
“He really pitched well, as well as having elite stuff,” Hyde said. “He’s thrown twice and it’s been electric stuff both times.”
In a vacuum, the 99.8-mph fastball Harvey used to punch out Soler was the sixth-fastest strikeout pitch thrown by a member of the Orioles since at least 2008, with only Kevin Gausman and Miguel Castro registering harder ones. But given the context, it was a snapshot of the potential that’s defined Harvey since the O's selected him No. 22 overall in the '13 MLB Draft. For the crowd at Oriole Park, it was a show Harvey’s litany of arm ailments -- Tommy John surgery in '16, right shoulder trouble in '18 -- had long delayed.
“He’s been through a whole lot of injuries,” said Bundy, who got a no-decision despite dueling with Royals starter Brad Keller for much of the night. “He deserves it more than anybody I think. He’s worked his tail off to get back up here.”
And for the Orioles, it was the type of performance they envisioned when moving Harvey to the bullpen full-time in June, hoping his stuff would play and his health benefit from pitching in shorter spurts. At the time, Harvey said he “thought they were just trying to manage me” -- and in truth, the O's do have a non-public innings limit in mind for the 24-year-old in 2019. But Harvey quickly found he took to the role, similar to the one his father, Bryan, excelled in for the Angels and Marlins in the mid-1990s.
“I’ve really enjoyed it so far, loved it so far,” Harvey said. “There was a lot of negative stuff thrown at me the past three years. I kept trying to not get down on myself, not feel sorry for myself, and keep pushing to get to this moment now, to be here and finally be through all that stuff, it’s amazing.”