February 22, 2024
Kyle Harrison struck out 11 in his first start at Oracle Park.

SAN FRANCISCO — Kyle Harrison sure knows how to make a first impression.

There was serious hype around the Giants rookie’s home debut Monday, but he exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

The 22-year-old lefty starter’s 11-strikeout, 6.1-inning performance will be remembered for a lifetime. It showed that the future is bright — 50 thousand watts — for the East Bay kid and his hometown team.

In the here and now, Harrison delivered the kind of performance that the vast majority of Major League players can’t replicate.

No, what Harrison did on Monday is the realm of baseball’s best.

And if that doesn’t serve as a defibrillator to a Giants’ team that came into Monday flatlining (having lost seven straight series), then nothing will revive this squad.

Harrison was a force of nature — the kind that doesn’t come around often — on Monday.

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His second big-league start was a reminder that baseball’s best pitchers cannot be fully experienced through a television screen. They must be seen firsthand, the rhythm of their games felt, to fully comprehend their excellence.

Most guys are just throwing.

Not Harrison. He was out there pitching on Monday.

Statcast can’t explain the difference. The 24 thousand fans in the stands can, though.

Now, I’m going to throw some names your way. They might seem like lofty or downright unfair comparisons for Harrison, who is yet to pitch ten big league innings.

But by striking out 11 Reds, Harrison became the first pitcher with 10-plus strikeouts in his second Major League start since Shohei Ohtani.

I sat right behind home plate at the Coliseum at Ohtani’s first Major League start. Harrison’s start on Monday felt similar to that Easter Sunday game in Oakland. It felt like the precipice of something big.

Harrison was also the youngest Giant to strike out 11 since Madison Bumgarner did it at the age of 21 in 2011.

I don’t need to tell you that Bumgarner at the peak of his powers demanded your full attention anytime he took the mound. His stuff wasn’t the best, but he found ways to mow down even baseball’s best hitters. He was fearless and merciless.

Harrison had a bit of that swagger on Monday. He was pitching with cruel intentions, as evidenced by some of his put-away pitches, which found more spin and speed.

With a pitching motion that called to mind Giants greats of Harrison’s youth — the deliberate steps of Matt Cain, the full-body whip of Tim Lincecum, and the three-quarters release of Bumgarner — Harrison took over the first of what should be many games throughout his career.

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He struck out the first five batters he faced Monday. That’ll get your attention.

He did it by pairing his 70-grade, high-spin fastball with a slurve pitch that improved in sharpness and frequency throughout the game. We also saw seven changeups — a pitch rarely used in the minors — which hinted at the improvisational skills vital to being a great big-league pitcher.

Harrison pounded the strike zone with the zeal of a multi-time All-Star and was rewarded. His 41 percent CSW rate (called strikes plus swings and misses) was elite — the most dominant starter in the game today, Spencer Strider, has a 36 percent CSW on the season, per PitcherList.com.

Monday’s game was a possible playoff preview. Yet Harrison made everyone else on the diamond seem like second-rate players.

After all, the Reds started one of the best young pitchers in the game Monday in lefty rookie Andrew Abbott. He might as well have been a taxi squad player on Monday. He was anonymous. I can’t remember a single pitch he made. Statcast says there were some nasty ones. They didn’t register in person.

Harrison’s pitches did, though.

Ultimately, only time will tell if Harrison becomes one of the game’s best.

Monday, he proved he has what it takes to reach that level. The talent is undeniable. He toyed with a playoff-contending lineup without fully knowing how to use his stuff at the big-league level.

And after a special performance like Monday’s, there’s only one question left to ask:

What happens when Harrison actually knows what he’s doing?

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