As soon as the Cincinnati Reds picked up pitcher Matt Harvey from the New York Mets, there was speculation they got him mostly so they could get rid of him later in the season.
But even after Harvey pitched much better than expected for his new team, a trade-deadline deal that would send him to a contender for prospects never developed. So instead of heading off to a pennant race, the right-hander keeps heading back to the mound for the last-place Reds.
That could be bad news for contending teams down the stretch -- including, possibly, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Harvey faces off against left-hander Robbie Ray (3-2) in the second game of the three-game Reds-Diamondbacks series Saturday at Great American Ball Park.
The last-place Reds rode a strong start by right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (6-3), who gave up only three hits in seven-plus shutout innings, and a suicide squeeze bunt by Billy Hamilton that resulted in two runs to a 3-0 victory over Arizona on Friday night.
Harvey was roughed up in two of his last three starts, including a 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals last Saturday in which he gave up five runs in four innings, and a 9-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 22 that saw him allow four home runs.
But Harvey pitched effectively for five consecutive starts before that, and he already has beaten the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and the Pirates since the Reds acquired him from the Mets for catcher Devin Mesoraco and cash.
If there's any disappointment in Harvey that he didn't get dealt to a contender, he's not showing it. The Reds also don't believe he's showing any fatigue, even though the 29-year-old already has thrown more innings (104) than he has in any season since 2015 (189 innings).
"I don't think it's affected him," Reds manager Jim Riggleman told reporters after the loss to Washington. "He's the most adamant of all our guys, '(When) are we going to stop this six-man rotation? I want innings. So I don't think it's that."
Riggleman said Friday that the Reds' six-man rotation will remain at least through the Cleveland series next week. Then, he said, "It might be six again."
"We're not identifying anybody that we feel like we want to take out of the rotation," Riggleman said.
Especially Harvey -- after all, the Reds are 43-38 since acquiring him after being 8-27 before that.
"He's been good for us. He's going to continue to be good," Riggleman said. "I think he's going to be better next year."
Harvey is 3-1 with a 3.52 ERA in five career starts against the Diamondbacks, with only one in the last three years -- a no-decision as the Mets lost to Arizona 5-4 on May 17, 2017. He gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Ray, who has a 2.57 ERA in seven road starts this season, is 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 17 innings against the Reds but hasn't faced them this season.
Harvey can only hope to pitch nearly as effectively as DeSclafani, who has allowed only one run in 14 innings in his last two starts. He struck out nine and walked none Friday while facing a first-place team that had won eight of its previous 12 games.
"He was driving his fastball to both halves of the plate, and he did a good job against left-handed hitters by tying them up and using an assortment of pitches after that," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "He threw well and kept our offense in check. It wasn't the way we drew it up or thought it would happen ... but everything was clicking for him. We just couldn't get it going offensively."
It's not just DeSclafani; the Diamondbacks have scored more than three runs only once in their last five games, and are ninth in the National League in runs scored.
"It's hard to pinpoint (the reason), I wish I could," Lovullo said. "If I did, we wouldn't have these things going on.
"We've run into some tough pitching ... and when these things happen, you've got to battle through tough times and lean moments and know we're a good offensive team and be ready to capitalize on mistakes."