BALTIMORE -- Before embarking on a stretch of 16 games in 16 days starting Tuesday night against the Rays, the Orioles purposefully pushed the majority of their rotation back, some individuals as many as three days, with an eye toward managing workloads and navigating the next two-plus weeks with their starting staff at full strength. The exception was Matt Harvey, who took his regular turn in the series opener looking to shake off the residue from his last start, a seven-run shellacking at the hands of his former team, the Mets, in the ballpark where he once dominated.
The results were less than ideal. Harvey responded with arguably the worst start of his career, surrendering six runs in 1 2/3 innings in Baltimore’s 13-6 loss to Tampa Bay at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The veteran right-hander is 1-3 with an 8.62 ERA in his past four starts after allowing just 14 runs in his first six (3-1, 4.06 ERA).
“I didn’t feel comfortable from the beginning,” Harvey said. “Kinda got into some old habits mechanically and gave up some soft hits, and then with runners on I gave up two hard ones that cost us the game.”
All the damage Tuesday came during Harvey’s brutal second inning, when he allowed seven of nine batters to reach and yielded three-run homers to Brett Phillips and Austin Meadows before departing. It went in the books as the second-shortest start of Harvey’s career, and only the second time in 153 career starts that he failed to complete two innings.
“I’ve got some work to do this week mechanically and go back to square one and figure it out so this doesn’t happen again,” Harvey said. “I don’t think there are any positives from the last two, three outings. Going less than four innings as a starter is completely unacceptable, and giving up as many runs as I have the last few games is completely unacceptable.”
The hole Harvey left Tuesday proved too sizable for the Orioles to dig out of, though the offense made things interesting in the middle innings. Stevie Wilkerson, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk before the game, and Trey Mancini each had a run-scoring hit to help Baltimore slice the deficit in half with a three-run fourth, chasing Rays starter Luis Patiño before Tampa Bay poured it on against the O’s ‘pen. Three relievers allowed multiple runs, coughing up two homers to Mike Zunino and one to Ji-Man Choi. The defeat was the Orioles’ eighth in 10 games.
Getting your mind right
Speaking after the game, Mancini revealed he recently began reading “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance,” by W. Timothy Gallwey, picking up the famous sports psychologist's book at the recommendation of O’s hitting coach Don Long. An avid amateur tennis player growing up, Mancini said he could relate to the book’s thesis and is seeking to apply its universal themes.
“I am really trying to work on the mental side of the game," Mancini said. “I’ve really been trying to put [the book’s teachings] into practice when I’m out there.”
Maybe his recent uptick in production is related. Maybe it’s not. But what’s clear is how Mancini has emerged from his early season struggles over the past three weeks, looking more and more like the elite run producer he was in 2019 before he missed all of '20 beating colon cancer.
Mancini’s third-inning single gave him 16 RBIs in May, most in the Majors at the time of the hit. He has raised his average from .237 to .256 and his OPS from .742 to .772 in May.
Bullpen bright spot
Somewhat hidden within the bullpen’s poor showing was an interesting outing from rookie right-hander Tyler Wells, who pitched 2 1/3 innings in relief of Harvey. Wells wasn’t perfect, surrendering Zunino’s first of two two-run homers in the third. But of the seven outs he recorded, six came via strikeout.
It was the latest hint of swing-and-miss potential from the 26-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick, who has spent his first few months in the big leagues missing bats when given the chance. Wells doesn’t pitch much (11 appearances) and doesn’t get a ton of outs when he does (5.21 ERA). But he has struck out 25 in 19 innings against seven walks.