Before his first Cactus League start, Angels right-hander Matt Harvey sent a few text messages to his friends. He was nervous, he said. He hadn’t felt so anxious about a start in a long time.
In 19 days, he will turn 30. He is about to embark on his seventh campaign in the big leagues. The nerves seemed slightly out of place.
“I feel like I’m 21 years old again, starting my baseball career in the big leagues,” he said.
In a sense, Harvey is starting over. After years of dealing with injuries and off-the-field distractions while he was with the New York Mets, Harvey has a chance to rediscover himself with the Angels. He took a second step toward that goal Wednesday at Salt River Fields, where faced the Colorado Rockies in his first official appearance of the spring.
Five days after throwing a “B” game on a minor league field at the Angels’ spring-training complex, Harvey threw 44 pitches, gave up two hits and a walk and yielded one run in three innings.
So much adrenaline coursed through Harvey when he took a major league mound during spring training that his fastball, which last year averaged around 94 mph, topped out at 95.6 mph in the first inning.
Asked if he had ever seen his velocity ramp up so quickly during spring training, Harvey didn’t know.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy during spring training,” Harvey said. “I don’t even remember. I know after Tommy John surgery [in 2014] I had it kind of stay the whole time. I think before that it’s just progressively built up with feeling more comfortable being on a mound and being back in competitive action.”
Harvey’s fastball hovered around 92-94 mph for the rest of his outing. He also worked to improve his other pitches. He threw his low-80s curveball 10 times. That’s a pitch from which he had strayed so dramatically that its usage dipped from 11.9% in 2015 to 5.4% last season. He also drew three swings and misses on his slider, a pitch that batters hit only .206 with a slugging percentage of .315 against in 2018.
The curveball, like the changeup, is a point of emphasis for Harvey this spring. He has been working with new pitching coach Doug White to refine it, trying to improve the shape of the pitch so it can become more effective.
Harvey’s next start is expected to be Monday against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium.
“He can pitch with just three pitches,” Ausmus said of Harvey’s progress with his curveball and changeup. “He doesn’t necessarily have to have both, but I think he’s a lot more effective if he has both.”
Baseball has begun to investigate Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper to determine if his comments about recruiting Mike Trout is considered tampering.
Harper, who signed a $330-million, 13-year contract with the Phillies late last week, told a Philadelphia radio station Tuesday that he planned to ask Trout to join him with the Phillies as soon as Trout became a free agent.
Harper doubled down on the comment Wednesday at Phillies camp, telling reporters, “If I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t have said it.” He said he had not heard from MLB.
Trout, who is from Millville, N.J., and has season tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles, is under contract with the Angels through 2020. Angels owner Arte Moreno has indicated on multiple occasions that re-signing Trout to an extension is a top priority for his team.
The Angels contacted MLB regarding Harper’s comments Tuesday, general manager Billy Eppler said.
Baseball Rule 3(k) prohibits “negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any Major or Minor League Club other than the Club with which the player is under contract.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred, while speaking to a group of Boston business executives Wednesday, said he didn’t want MLB players recruiting like they do in the NBA. He wouldn’t say whether he thought Harper’s comments constituted tampering.
“There’s a rule against tampering for a reason,” Ausmus said. “There has been for a long time. … It’s always been a big deal.”