With Harvey shut down, 'pen coughs up big lead

September 19th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Six times over the last four innings of Wednesday’s 11-10 loss to the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde dipped into his heavily reinforced bullpen clinging to a lead, looking for outs. Six times the door swung open and someone other than Hunter Harvey emerged. Harvey won't emerge again in 2019.

Hyde announced the Orioles are shutting Harvey down for the remainder of the season late Wednesday night, minutes after Baltimore’s bullpen melted down absent one of its high-leverage arms. Hyde said Wednesday afternoon that Harvey, who was approaching an innings limit and has a lengthy injury history, is “not quite rebounding from the [right biceps] soreness” that sidelined the 24-year-old earlier this month.

“We just feel he’s thrown enough, and we’re really happy with the year he’s had and want him to take the offseason to get ready for Spring Training,” Hyde said. “There are [10] games to go and we don’t feel it’s necessary to have him pitch anymore.”

For weeks, the Orioles and Harvey have downplayed the severity of his soreness, which Hyde often characterized as normal, saying on Wednesday that the ailment was something that did not require additional testing. The O's kept Harvey inactive from Sept. 2 until Friday, largely as a precaution; he returned to throw one inning in the Orioles' series opener in Detroit, and arrived at Oriole Park on Wednesday on five days' rest. When asked pregame, Hyde said everything was fine with Harvey from a health standpoint. Hyde later said the decision to shut Harvey down was made Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking at his locker Thursday, Harvey said, "It stinks," but that he understood the decision, further describing it as precautionary. Harvey said that "there was nothing ever really wrong" with his arm, and that he views getting through 2019 healthy as an accomplishment. 

"It was finally getting out of the crazy little snowball I was in," Harvey said. "I worked hard this past offseason trying to get my body right, and it finally held up."

The Orioles originally had about seven more innings budgeted this year for Harvey, who threw 82 frames combined across Double-A Bowie, Triple-A Norfolk and the Majors. That’s just off his career high of 87 2/3 from 2014, and easily his highest total since that season. The former first-round Draft pick missed much of '14-18 due to a variety of arm injuries.

“He’s thrown more this year than he has in a long, long time,” Hyde said. “He’s never thrown this late in the year. We want to keep him healthy.”

"To make it this far in September was huge for me," said Harvey, who pitched to a 1.42 ERA and struck out 11 over his first seven MLB appearances. 

Without him Wednesday, the Orioles’ bullpen gradually lost grip on what was once a six-run lead, allowing nine runs. Bearing the brunt of it was Miguel Castro, who surrendered Randal Grichuk’s game-winning grand slam with two outs as part of a six-run ninth. The six earned runs were a career worst for Castro; he’d pitched to a 2.45 ERA over his past 45 appearances.

“There are good days and bad days, unfortunately today was a bad day for me,” Castro said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I think it was just one pitch that cost me the game.”

Quietly Baltimore’s most successful reliever for much of the year, Castro is rarely asked to pitch the ninth. Those duties typically fall to Mychal Givens, who was instead summoned Wednesday to hold a three-run lead in the eighth. He did so with a scoreless frame, but he was not pushed for a second inning since he was already pitching back-to-back days. The Orioles then entered the ninth up four runs, seemingly in line to reward Dylan Bundy for grinding through five effective but inefficient innings.

Seven batters later, that cushion had morphed into a two-run hole. And once Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the frame, the paint dried on one of the more improbable and painful losses of the Orioles’ season, the result overshadowing big nights from Villar (home run, three runs scored), Mancini (three RBIs), DJ Stewart (three hits, two RBIs) and others.

Throw in key hits by Anthony Santander (two-run homer), Austin Hays (three hits) and Rio Ruiz (RBI double), and nearly all of Wednesday’s contributions came from players the Orioles are eyeing for major roles in 2020. Harvey certainly fits that mold, should the O's be able to keep him healthy. Baltimore views the events of Wednesday as a small price to pay if it means achieving that goal.