BALTIMORE — As the Orioles continue to languish with the worst starter ERA in the American League, an important part of their future made his much-anticipated return to a professional mound Wednesday.
Pitching in his first game since undergoing Tommy John surgery last July 26, Hunter Harvey completed a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast League Orioles. The 22-year-old threw 27 pitches, allowing two hits and striking out one.
“He felt great. The velocity was really good,” said manager Buck Showalter about the 2013 first-round pick. “They’ve got him mapped out all the way through the end of August, which is good. He’s going to pitch once a week with a workday in between and a couple of long-toss [sessions].”
Harvey hadn’t pitched professionally since last July when the recurrence of a flexor mass strain in his right elbow led to ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery. That chronic issue along with a few other ailments limited him to just 12 2/3 innings over the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The plan is for Harvey to make a couple more appearances in the GCL before advancing to short-season Single-A Aberdeen and then Single-A Delmarva. The organization has already decided that he will not pitch in the Arizona Fall League.
“This guy’s been throwing since basically November,” Showalter said. “I think the most important thing that everybody thinks — including Hunter — is just to have his first normal offseason in a long time.”
As a 19-year-old in 2014, Harvey appeared to be on a fast track to the majors before his right forearm discomfort first surfaced. He pitched to a 3.18 ERA and averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 17 starts for Delmarva that year before being shut down in late July.
He was ranked as a consensus top 100 prospect going into the 2015 season.
With the Orioles having such a desperate need for starting pitching, Showalter was asked how rapidly Harvey might be able to progress — assuming he suffers no physical setbacks along the way. The hope is that he would begin the 2018 season at Double-A Bowie after a healthy spring training.
Eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Harvey will need to be placed on the 40-man roster.
“He’s not going to be a candidate to make our club next year,” Showalter said. “But I know he has the potential to make a lot of people ask that question.
“He’s got a lot of hurdles to cross.”
NOTES: Showalter said left-hander Zach Britton is ready to assume his closer duties again after another strong outing on Tuesday night. The two-time All-Star selection hasn’t recorded a save since April 14 and missed most of the first half with a left forearm strain. … Infielder Ryan Flaherty is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment next week. He’s been sidelined with a right shoulder injury since May. … Right-hander Miguel Castro has impressed Showalter with his work out of the bullpen and could be a candidate to work as a starter next spring if his changeup continues to develop. The 22-year-old has posted a solid 3.32 ERA in 21 2/3 innings, but he’s struck out just 4.6 per nine innings.