What we learned as Harrison dazzles Reds in Giants’ energizing win

What we learned as Harrison dazzles Reds in Giants’ energizing win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — At 6:43 p.m. on Monday night, Kyle Harrison emerged from the dugout and led the Giants onto the field at Oracle Park for the first time. Seventeen minutes later, he had his first standing ovation. By the end of the night, the Giants had the jumpstart they so desperately needed.

Harrison struck out the first five batters he faced in his highly anticipated home debut and took a shutout into the seventh, looking throughout like the kind of pitcher who can help this club reach the postseason over the next month. The Giants rode the historic debut to a 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

The 22-year-old lefty struck out 11 in his first home start, and just as importantly, he reached 91 pitches. The Giants kept Harrison on a strict pitch count in Triple-A all season long in hopes that he could make a difference in September, and it looks like he’ll enter the final month — and beyond — as a normal big league starter. Or perhaps even a dominant one.

Harrison has faced 40 batters in two starts against potential playoff teams and struck out 16 of them. He again leaned heavily on his fastball Monday, getting 16 called strikes and seven swinging strikes. The pitch averaged 94.6 mph but apparently looks like it’s coming in at 100; Harrison used his fastball to clinch his first six strikeouts and eight overall.

The Reds threatened Harrison just twice, and while manager Gabe Kapler turned to Ryan Walker to get out of a seventh-inning jam, he did let Harrison keep pushing in the fifth. That led to perhaps the rookie’s best moment in the big leagues so far. With runners on the corners and two outs, Harrison blew a 95 mph fastball past TJ Hopkins and then pumped his fist and screamed.

Hall-of-Fame Company

After the impressive first inning, Harrison sat for a while as the Giants scored a run and loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame — and then came out and struck out the first two batters of the second on two more fastballs. When he blew 96 mph by fellow NorCal product Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Harrison became the first Giants starter since Randy Johnson in 2009 to begin a game with five straight strikeouts.

Harrison probably won’t strike out nearly 5,000 batters in the big leagues, because nobody ever will again, but he does look like he might have a shot to chase strikeout titles as Johnson did for the better part of two decades.

Harrison has struck out 16 in 9 2/3 innings. MLB’s current strikeout leader, Spencer Strider, is averaging 13.85 strikeouts per nine innings. Nobody else in the big leagues is above 12.00. Strider averaged 14.6 K/9 in the minors, which is exactly what Harrison was at before the Giants promoted him last week.

Forever Giants

Harrison came out for the sixth and blew 95 mph past fellow top prospect Noelvi Marte, becoming the first pitcher since Shohei Ohtani in 2018 to whiff more than 10 batters in his second career start. Ohtani fanned 12 Oakland A’s on April 8 of that season.

Harrison also became just the second pitcher in Giants history to have double-digit strikeouts in his second career start. The only other time it happened was in 1912, when Jeff Tesreau struck out 10 Brooklyn Dodgers in eight innings.

The Giants have had plenty of high-octane arms in their history — including Carlos Rodón, who had these kinds of nights often last year — but this is certainly a new wrinkle for the 2023 staff. The Giants entered the night ranked 18th in the big leagues in K/9 and Logan Webb (four times) was the only starter to hit double-digits this season before Harrison.

The Rest Wasn’t Bad, Either

It was a huge night for the rookies, with Patrick Bailey hitting an RBI double off the bricks, Wade Meckler picking up his first extra-base hit in the big leagues, and Luis Matos throwing a runner out at the plate to preserve Harrison’s line.

The Giants expect to get Mitch Haniger and Mike Yastrzemski back this week, but their rookies are starting to look more comfortable. Matos had the highlight of the night with one out in the seventh, and it kept one of Harrison’s runners from scoring.

With two on and one out, Walker entered to face Nick Martini, who lined a single into right. As lead runner Encarnacion-Strand slowed, trail runner TJ Fried rounded second without looking up. Third base coach J.R. House saw that he was about to have two runners at third and second Encarnacion-Strand home, and the play wasn’t close.

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