Harvey has O's excited, but cautious about use

August 21st, 2019

BALTIMORE – A day after dazzled in his Camden Yards debut, Brandon Hyde arrived at Oriole Park knowing it would be at least a day until he sees that show again, though the manager couldn’t help but admit he “would like to.”

Given the struggles Hyde has had to deal with in the Orioles' bullpen during his first year at the helm, who can blame him? Publicly and privately, Hyde has clamored for members of his frequently churning relief corps to emerge as consistent contributors, or at the very least, arms he can turn to with some trust. Few have, and now here comes Harvey, looking like a weapon.

There is more to consider, though, with Harvey, who is healthy again after missing most of the past four seasons with injuries. His arrival in the big leagues comes with restrictions, as part of a structured plan. Hyde spent some of Wednesday afternoon providing glimpses into the plan meant to keep Harvey on the mound for 2019 and beyond.

Here is an overview how the O's plan to use their high-voltage rookie right-hander going forward:

Will Harvey’s innings be limited?
Yes. The Orioles have a hard cap in mind for Harvey this season, though they aren’t publicly disclosing it. There has been one in place all year, and they aren’t going to push him past that number, given his injury history.

That was at least part of the reason the O's shifted Harvey to the bullpen in mid-June, though his performance in the rotation and classic back-end profile factored in, as well. Still, had he remained a starter, Harvey likely would have reached his innings ceiling already. Even with the move to the ’pen, Harvey already has bypassed his workload totals from the past four years combined.

Harvey’s innings pitched by year:
2019: 77 2/3
2018: 32 1/3
2017: 18 2/3
2016: 12 2/3
2015: 0
2014: 87 2/3
2013: 25 1/3

Will that mean Harvey gets shut down?
The Orioles’ hope is no, though they understand that it remains a possibility at some point over the next six weeks. They’ve taken steps to prevent it, budgeting innings and days off for Harvey with an eye toward him contributing through the end of the season and finishing it healthy, according to a team source. For Hyde, the challenge will be resisting the urge stray from those guidelines, given the lack of back-end weapons he has had this summer.

“We’re going to be pretty careful with him,” Hyde said. “We have a number that we’re going to stay within. I’m not going to pitch him every time it’s a close game late, but pick my spots.”

When will Harvey be used?
So how will that work? Will Harvey pitch back-to-back days? “Probably not,” Hyde said Wednesday.

Will Harvey be saved only for clean innings or brought into the middle of messes? Hyde said he would do the latter, “but prefer not to.” Harvey has been brought in to begin an inning in each of his first two career appearances.

“In Boston, I didn’t want him in the middle of an inning,” Hyde said. “Last night, I didn’t want him to come in in the middle of an inning. I wanted him to start the inning. That’s what I’d prefer to do. Obviously, game situation changes stuff.”

How about role? Hyde hasn’t had the luxury of setting many for a bullpen that entered play Wednesday with an MLB-worst 6.15 collective ERA. Hyde had Harvey warming late Monday in case Baltimore took the lead, then threw him into a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning Tuesday. Perhaps even save situations are in store on nights is unavailable. Hyde didn’t rule it out.

“I just want to watch him pitch and for him to learn what it’s like to pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “I’ll pick my spots with him, throw him in different scenarios, different situations and monitor his innings closely. I look forward to watching him the rest of the year.”

Is Harvey in the bullpen for good?
At least for this year, yes. There is simply no reason -- from a competitive or health standpoint -- for the Orioles to experiment with Harvey in the rotation at this point in 2019.

Even if they wanted to, there wouldn’t be much time to stretch him back out given the schedule’s late date. As for the future, Hyde didn’t dismiss the possibility of Harvey converting back to starting when asked, but it’s clearly not a priority right now.

“We’ll see, not sure,” Hyde said. “Finish this year healthy, and we’ll go from there.”