Matt Harvey pitching well has been rare this year. So have been Orioles road wins. Both longshots came in as they won a series Sunday.
Matt Harvey pitched well today. This sentence has not been written much since the 2015 season and could barely have been said about any game of the 2021 Orioles season, where even Harvey’s non-horrible outings would be more accurately described as “decent, I guess.” The result of Matt Harvey pitching well today is that the O’s start off the second half of their season with a road series win. They shut out the Royals, 5-0, in the series finale.
Harvey has been a bad pitcher for an uncomfortable stretch of games. During today’s game, Sports Info Solutions stats guru Mark Simon tweeted a horrifying stat about Harvey. Over his last 11 starts before today, Harvey had an 11.20 ERA. More horrifying for Orioles fans is that this level of terrible performance was last racked up by an Oriole, as Brian Matusz had an 11.86 ERA over an 11 start stretch in 2011. A pitcher is struggling indeed if he must be mentioned along side of 2011 Matusz.
Even in the middle of that dismal stretch, Harvey has been on the wrong end of a number of things to make you wonder how much of it was bad luck. He came into Sunday’s game with a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 4.72, making him one of the pitchers with the widest gap between his ERA and FIP. During the game, the MASN broadcast duo of Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald discussed how Harvey is also one of the pitchers this year with the worst defenses behind him, as measured by Statcast’s Outs Above Average stat.
So, maybe it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that Harvey showed up against one of the worst offenses in the American League and turned in six scoreless innings on Sunday afternoon. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it still is, because honestly, once a guy gets to a 7.70 ERA, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in hearing about how unlucky he’s been. After today, it is down to 7.13. He would need to pitch another 35.1 scoreless innings to get his ERA below 5.
On Sunday afternoon, Harvey retired the Royals first three batters of the game on six pitches. He didn’t quite keep up that efficiency for his whole outing, but he did hold Kansas City to just five baserunners – three hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch – over six innings. A team won’t score many runs with five runners in six innings, especially when none of the three hits went for extra bases.
Another day with a different defense behind him and the wheels might have fallen off for Harvey in the fourth inning. With one out, he hit Salvador Perez with a pitch then walked Carlos Santana – who the MASN booth pointed out is MLB’s only batter with more walks than strikeouts since 2016 – to put two on.
Two batters later, Hunter Dozier hit a grounder up the middle that second baseman Domingo Leyba kept in the infield, preventing a run from scoring. Harvey was able to keep the sheet clean by getting a groundout to end the inning. In no other inning did the Royals get a runner past first base against Harvey.
The Orioles offense only had eight hits over the game’s nine innings. They were able to make them count despite going just 2-11 in their at-bats with runners in scoring position, and they didn’t hit any home runs, either. As the saying goes, sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. There have been many more bug days than windshield days for the 2021 Orioles. Sunday was a windshield day.
The team got on the board in the third inning against hard-throwing Royals starter Carlos Hernandez. Any time you get a guy hitting 101 in the first inning, that’s a tough assignment. Still, the O’s managed to load the bases with two outs. Austin Wynns walked, Austin Hays singled, and DJ Stewart walked, each with an out between them.
This set up a great clutch hitting situation for one of the O’s surprise players of the last few weeks, Ramón Urías. Since June 27, when Urías returned to the O’s following the injury to Freddy Galvis, he had OPSed .870 heading into today. He singled in two runs to give the O’s a 2-0 lead. As it ended up, this was all the offense they would need. Urías added another hit later. He and Hays were the two Orioles with multi-hit games.
Unlike many recent games, the O’s offense didn’t shut down totally after getting early runs. Trey Mancini delivered an RBI single in the fifth. Wynns hit a two-out double in the sixth that was able to score the speedy Ryan McKenna from first base, just ahead of the throw and tag. The fifth and final O’s run crossed when Dozier booted a grounder off the bat of Kelvin Gutierrez in the eighth inning. With one out, the runner on third was likely to score either way, so Gutierrez got an RBI even if he didn’t get a hit.
By Orioles reliever standards, late inning drama was minimal. The first man out of the bullpen, Adam Plutko, had problems, letting two of the three batters he faced reach base. Manager Brandon Hyde had Tanner Scott ready to go, and it was the good version of Scott who showed up to close the door on the Royals in the seventh. Dillon Tate pitched the eighth and Cole Sulser the ninth, each allowing one hit and nothing else in a scoreless inning.
The win was the O’s 30th of the season, bringing them up to a 30-62 record. They have still lost more than two-thirds of their games to date. Most of the time it’s not fun to watch these guys, so it’s good to enjoy every win that comes along, whether or not it has any meaning for a better Orioles future.
In the case of Sunday’s game, maybe Hays, Urías, and if you really squint, Tate, can play their way into roles on that better team. It’s nice to dream.
Next up for the Orioles is a trip to Florida, where they might do some little turns on the catwalk at the Trop. Spenser Watkins is the expected starter for the O’s, with Ryan Yarbrough pitching for the Rays in the 7:10 Monday opener.