As a younger pitcher, Matt Harvey admits that he didn't obsess over his mechanics or, in a larger sense, the particulars of his craft. He didn't have to. The struggles most pitchers encounter en route to and once they reach the Majors never touched Harvey. His rise was meteoric, his success immediate: a first-round pick at 21, in the bigs by 23, at the center of the baseball world and starting the All-Star Game at 24. It was a cosmic ascent for a star who thrived on power and burned brightest in the spotlight.
"I think the first couple years I threw so well that it just came easy, came natural, and after having some struggles over the last couple years, it kind of changed my mind to, I guess, opening up more to what I could do to change things or get back to where they were," Harvey said this weekend at Orioles camp in Sarasota, Fla. "I think now it's definitely more of something I pay attention to and really keep my ears open to anything that's going to help me get better and help the team win."
Now 31 and in Orioles camp on a Minor League deal, Harvey hopes that mindset change serves as a foundation for rebuilding his career. He is more than five years removed from his "Dark Knight" days with the Mets, which effectively ended after his hard-luck loss in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. Injuries, controversy and struggles defined the half-decade since: thoracic syndrome in '16, an unceremonious end in New York in '18, then stints with four organizations over the past three seasons, for whom Harvey earned more than $16 million and produced a 5.69 ERA. The fall from grace bounced Harvey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles to Oakland to Kansas City and now to Baltimore, where he thinks he might find the tools to put himself back together.
Besides the obvious opportunity in the O's rotation, Harvey said he was attracted by the data-driven approach to pitching development the organization is quickly becoming known for.
"I never really opened up to the fact that my numbers kind of sucked, so it was a humbling experience," Harvey said. "I realized that, 'All right, I need to take a step back and figure out how to improve things.'"
To that end, Harvey trained this winter at Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville, N.J., a modern pitching lab that specializes in biomechanics and pitch design. There, he dove into data for the first time, committing to work with Edgertronic and Rapsodo technology and the study of concepts like spin rate, axis and tilt. Harvey called it a "start over" where he "really opened my ears to any option or opinion on what I could do."
To some, that might run adverse to the reputation Harvey built in New York: as a tabloid regular who, before his Mets tenure was over, feuded with management, cursed at reporters and repeatedly declined Minor League assignments. For now, at least, he's saying all the right things. Harvey said publicly Sunday he'd be open to pitching out of the bullpen, an idea O's manager Brandon Hyde has floated in the event Harvey does not win a rotation job. He also praised the organization's rising flock of pitching prospects, offering advice or guidance to any youngsters interested.
"I've told everybody whatever they need, whatever they want to ask, I'm all theirs and up for whatever. I'm just extremely happy to be here," Harvey said. "I told the guys here, 'Whatever you think mechanically could help me, whatever you believe needs to be done in order to get me back, I know it's in there.' It's been frustrating, because I know it's there. I haven't had that click moment where I feel like, 'All right, there it was. That's the old me, that's who I think I can be.' Hopefully we can find that as soon as we possibly can."