The Angels found a temporary solution to the Matt Harvey dilemma Saturday, placing the struggling right-hander on the 10-day injured list because of an upper-back strain and dousing speculation that the veteran could be demoted to the bullpen or possibly designated for assignment.
Harvey is 2-4 with a 7.50 ERA, the highest ERA among American League pitchers with 10 or more starts, and is coming off what he called “one of my worst starts ever,” a 2-2/3-inning effort in which he was rocked for eight runs and seven hits — four of them homers — in Thursday’s 16-7 loss to Minnesota.
“The frustrating part is I feel good, I feel healthy,” Harvey, who signed for $11 million last winter, said after the game. “It’s just the ball’s not coming out right.”
The second part of that statement is true. The first, apparently, was not.
Manager Brad Ausmus said he was “made aware” of the back issue after Thursday’s start. What did Harvey say to the manager?
“Just that it was having an impact on him,” Ausmus said. “And that he was kind of keeping it to himself. He had to get through this thing to get better.”
Did Ausmus see anything Thursday that would indicate Harvey was hurt?
“I can’t say that I noticed anything,” Ausmus said. “Maybe he felt fine. I don’t know when it started.”
Harvey was not available for comment before Saturday night’s game against Texas in Angel Stadium. His agent, Scott Boras, said Harvey “felt good” during a one-two-three first inning but went downhill during a six-run second.
“All of a sudden he couldn’t get the ball down, he couldn’t get through [his delivery],” Boras said. “He wasn’t able to push it with his velocity, and he didn’t feel like himself. They found a little weakness in his muscle. It’s not anything that’s going to be long-term.”
Harvey’s fastball has averaged 93.4 mph this season, according to Fangraphs, only a tick below his 94-mph average last season. The location of the pitches — Harvey also throws a slider, curve and changeup — and his inability to put hitters away have been bigger factors in his struggles.
In Harvey’s first six seasons, he held hitters to a .157 average and .454 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in two-strike counts. He has yielded a .277 average and .949 OPS in two-strike counts this season.
Outside of two starts against Kansas City in which he gave up three earned runs in 12 innings, Harvey has yielded 37 earned runs in 36 innings spanning eight other starts.
Harvey will be replaced in the rotation by left-hander Andrew Heaney, who will be activated off the injured list to start Sunday. Felix Pena will remain in the rotation and pitch Monday’s series opener at Oakland, and Trevor Cahill will start Tuesday.
In addition, the Angels activated reliever Luis Garcia from the injured list, recalled reliever Taylor Cole from triple-A and optioned reliever Luke Bard to Salt Lake.