In his heyday with the Mets, Matt Harvey was one of the game’s elite power pitchers, thriving with a fastball that lived in the high 90s and a wipeout slider. That arsenal fizzled in the years since, with injuries and inconsistency landing Harvey, now 32, in Baltimore this winter, with an eye toward recapturing some semblance of that old form.
Velocity tends to dim with age, forcing pitchers to reinvent themselves. In this regard, Harvey is no exception. But glimpses of his old dominance were evident in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader, when Harvey was a bright spot in the Orioles’ 4-2 loss to the Mariners at Oriole Park. Sporting a fastball that ticked as high as 95.9 mph, Harvey flashed max velocity, as high as his top starts more than two years ago, before Seattle rallied off Tanner Scott in the sixth.
Mitch Haniger’s fifth-inning two-run homer off Harvey, and J.P. Crawford’s two-run double in the sixth off Scott left Harvey still searching for his first win as an Oriole, with a 5.02 ERA in three starts. But those numbers mask some positive underlying peripherals and improved stuff — Harvey’s expected ERA (xERA) and fielding independent pitching (FIP) are nearly half his actual ERA. And while he eclipsed 96 mph several times down the stretch in 2020 for the Royals, all of those instances came pitching in relief. The last time he threw as hard as he did Thursday, in a start, was Sept. 25, 2018, for the Reds against the Royals.
“He was really impressive,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was in total control going into that fifth inning.”
The Orioles’ offense, however, mustered little in support against Marco Gonzales, who allowed Trey Mancini’s two-run first-inning homer and not much else across five solid frames. Mancini’s third homer in five games was a missile, leaving the bat with a 110.3 mph exit velocity and traveling 429 feet, per Statcast. The Orioles hope it sparks something, after Mancini entered play in a 7-for-44 funk to begin the season.
Cedric Mullins went hitless in the loss, snapping his 15-game hit streak.
Speaking after the game, Harvey used the word “frustrated” five times in his three-question media session, repeatedly saying he felt good enough at times on Thursday to go the distance. Perhaps the old Harvey would have.
But in truth, few were expecting Harvey to pitch like an ace after he went 19-35 with a 5.81 ERA for five teams over the last six seasons. And the O’s don’t need him to be an ace to help stabilize their shaky rotation. He’s already done that, and Thursday seemed to signal that it could continue.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Hyde said. “He had a good Spring Training and we were hoping it would carry over into the season, and it has. He’s kept us in the game three times. We had a chance to win today’s game, as well as the other two games he’s started. He’s done a nice job for us. Now we need to start swinging the bats a little bit and get him some run support.”