Today marks the opt-out date in Matt Harvey’s minor league contract with the Athletics, though the right-hander is going to remain in the organization, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Harvey could be changing roles, however, as the A’s have asked him to make some Triple-A relief appearances. The longtime starter is open to the idea, replaying he is “gonna give it the shot” in a text message to the Chronicle.
After an ugly 12-start stint with the Angels that resulted in a 7.09 ERA over 59 2/3 innings, Harvey was released in late July and then caught on with Oakland two weeks ago. After two solid outings for Triple-A Las Vegas, Harvey’s third start in the A’s organization wasn’t as sharp, giving him an overall 3.60 ERA, 4.50 K/BB rate, and 10.8 K/9 over 15 total innings for Las Vegas.
Harvey has started 140 of his 145 career Major League games, with four of those bullpen outings coming last season after he lost his rotation job with the Mets. It’s worth noting that when the Angels released Harvey, manager Brad Ausmus said the team didn’t explore using Harvey as a reliever since the team “didn’t think he’d take well to the role” (as per Maria Torres of the L.A. Times), which is perhaps telling given that the Angels have themselves been looking for relief help this season.
A move to the pen, however, might simply have been inevitable for a pitcher who simply hasn’t performed well since undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2016. Harvey has a 5.89 ERA over 307 1/3 innings since the start of the 2017 campaign, with only a 6.9 K/9 and an ungainly 1.8 HR/9. Slusser noted two days ago that Harvey was hoping to make a late-season rebound in Oakland’s rotation to help his free agent case this winter, and while Harvey could still market himself to starter-needy teams down the road, relief pitching is a relatively pragmatic short-term decision.
After all, Harvey could get himself a quicker path back to the big leagues as a reliever, given how the A’s have been short on reliable right-handed bullpen depth this season. If he acclimates well to a relief role, Harvey could even wind up pitching some important September innings for a team in the midst of a pennant race. Having a proven capability to work as a reliever would help Harvey in landing a Major League contract for next season, possibly as a full-time reliever or perhaps a swingman, whereas he would almost surely have to settle for another minors contract if he stuck with starting pitching.