Hunter Harvey's health a top priority for O's

February 19th, 2021

arrived at Orioles camp this week much like he did in previous years: rocking the same shoulder-length mullet (beloved on social media), full of the same late-inning potential and lugging around the same pressing injury concerns. They’ll follow the hard-throwing right-hander until he proves otherwise. He knows it and is ready to put them to bed.

“I think every season’s important, but once again, going into it, my main goal is the health thing, trying to stay healthy,” Harvey said Friday. “It’s by far been the biggest thing for me and been battling injuries for eight years, ever since I got drafted by the Orioles. So it’s a huge season, I have to stay healthy and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

To that end, Harvey said he doubled his typical amount of offseason throwing this winter at home in North Carolina, with an eye toward building arm strength and increased durability. He also met occasionally in person with O’s assistant coach Darren Holmes, a fellow North Carolina resident, for personalized instruction focused on mechanics and pitch design. This was after Harvey followed up his tantalizing late-season 2019 debut by throwing just 8 2/3 innings during the shortened 2020 season, limited by several weeks spent on the injured list with right elbow stiffness.

“I was really just trying to build my arm up and get the body used to possibly taking the ball back-to-back days -- or two on, one off -- and come back for another,” Harvey said. “Really just trying to prepare for that and be ready for any role they throw at me.”

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been hesitant to use Harvey on back-to-back days since his debut, doing it for the first time during the 2020 season’s final series, against the Blue Jays. The reasons why are well documented, with Harvey missing years of development to arm injuries since being drafted in the first round in 2013. The O’s also altered Harvey’s conditioning program this winter, the hope being to help keep him on the mound consistently enough for him to become a reliable option late in games.

“Someone like Hunter, I just want him to be healthy,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. “If that means he does no back-to-backs in Spring Training and I wait until the season, or we don’t do it during the season with him, I don’t know yet. But he’s going to be somebody we monitor closely. It’s going to be all individual in how we ramp these bullpen guys up.”

When healthy, Harvey has as much impact potential as any Orioles reliever, with a fastball that flirts with triple digits and a devastating curveball-splitter combination he uses to get swings and misses. Hyde is yet to name a closer during his managerial tenure; how he chooses to deploy Harvey among other high-leverage options like Tanner Scott and Cesar Valdez depends on a variety of factors going forward. Those include matchups, game situation and Harvey’s availability -- both long term and on a nightly basis. The entire completion of the O’s bullpen could depend on it.

“He’s a big piece for us. We really believe in him and his arm and his makeup, so the bottom line is just trying to keep him healthy,” Hyde said. “It’s really about him establishing health and being able to pitch for a full season. It’s just something he’s had a tough time with for lot of reasons over the course of his career. I know he’s ready, this is the best he’s ever felt and he’s coming to camp looking great, looking really strong.”