Orioles “taking the training wheels off” H. Harvey in return from injured list

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BALTIMORE — Sunday marks exactly eight years since the Orioles selected pitcher Hunter Harvey in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft.

But instead of becoming the mainstay in the starting rotation many envisioned when he quickly became a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball, the hard-throwing right-hander entered Friday with just 17 career major league appearances — all in relief — after dealing with a litany of injuries. Finally activated from the 60-day injured list after sustaining a left oblique strain in the middle of spring training, Harvey is hoping to stick for good as a reliever after flashing his talents in each of the last two seasons, posting a 3.00 ERA and striking out 17 batters in 15 combined innings.

He and the Orioles just hope his body doesn’t betray him yet again. Not only enduring a history of arm issues ranging from Tommy John surgery in 2016 to a right forearm strain last summer, Harvey has also dealt with his share of non-arm injuries over the years with the oblique strain being the latest source of frustration.  

“It was tough. Like I’d been saying going into spring, it’s the best my arm had felt, the best my body had been feeling,” said Harvey, who noted how much more work he’d done this offseason than in previous winters. “The ball just felt like it was coming out of my hand good, and then another freak accident happened. There’s not a whole lot you can do.”

(Hunter Harvey discusses his expectations after being activated from the injured list on Friday.)

Harvey made four rehab appearances for Triple-A Norfolk, allowing three earned runs and 10 hits while striking out four and walking one in 6 1/3 innings. He said he felt particularly strong in his final outing, estimating that it was the best he’s felt since 2019 when he pitched to a 1.42 ERA and struck out 11 in his first seven major league appearances.

Fans and media discussed Harvey eventually becoming the Orioles closer from the moment he transitioned to the bullpen at Norfolk in 2019, but the organization has been reluctant to let him pitch multiple innings or on back-to-back days to protect his health. Harvey described current expectations as finally “taking the training wheels off.”

“I’m going to use him like a regular piece in the bullpen,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s been a tough kind of few years for him being able to try to stay healthy, et cetera. I want to see what this guy has. I want to see if he can pitch in big spots; he’s going to pitch in big spots. I really love the arm, like the makeup, and I’d like to find out about him.”

While Harvey has just over a year of major league service time, he knows the clock is ticking for him to establish himself as a reliever who can stick in the majors and hopefully impact the late innings for a contending club in the future. Of course, it starts with him simply showing the durability that’s eluded him for most of his professional career.

With Harvey sporting a high-90s fastball, splitter, and a curveball, the Orioles believe the stuff will play if his body just cooperates. That sentiment is nothing new, of course, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound pitcher sounds eager to change the narrative in his ninth year of professional ball and become a dependable member of a Baltimore bullpen that could really use the help.

“I know I can. They’ve just been cautious with me in the past with how my arm has been and all the injuries I’ve had,” Harvey said. “Like Hyde said, I’m not getting any younger. There’s no point in waiting around. We’ve got to go. It’s time to go. There’s just not enough time to keep babying it every year.”

Armstrong designated for assignment

In addition to activating Harvey before the series opener against Cleveland, the Orioles made several other roster moves headlined by the decision to designate struggling reliever Shawn Armstrong for assignment.

After posting an impressive 1.80 ERA as one of Hyde’s best relievers in 2020, the 30-year-old right-hander had pitched to an ugly 8.55 ERA in 20 innings this season and had mostly been appearing in low-leverage situations in recent weeks.

“He kind of just never got going. I thought his last appearance was encouraging,” Hyde said. “I thought he had a really good seventh inning [against Minnesota on Wednesday] night. But he just threw too many balls over the middle of the plate that hurt him. That was a tough conversation today just because he’s somebody that has been here through a few years [and] pitched a lot of innings for us. Whatever’s best for ‘Army,’ I hope that happens.”

The Orioles also recalled right-handed reliever Travis Lakins and infielder Ramon Urias from Norfolk and placed infielder Pat Valaika on the bereavement list. In other organizational moves, Baltimore designated left-hander Brandon Waddell for assignment and claimed infielder Domingo Leyba off waivers from Arizona and optioned him to Norfolk.