SAN DIEGO — Kyle Harrison made a lot of major-league hitters look foolish through his first two major-league starts. But it was the 22-year-old lefty’s turn to get humbled Saturday in his third time taking the mound for the San Francisco Giants.
Harrison surrendered four home runs and took the loss as the Giants (70-66) fell to the Padres (64-73), 6-1. The loss allowed the Reds to pull into a three-way tie for the final wild card, with the Marlins just a game back.
Three of the long balls came within the first seven hitters Harrison faced before Garrett Cooper delivered the final blow, a three-run shot in the sixth, that ended Harrison’s night. The early barrage of homers, from Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts and Gary Sánchez, echoed the way Tristan Beck began Friday night’s loss.
Catcher Patrick Bailey was quick to console his batterymate in the dugout, and afterward as Harrison sat at his locker numerous teammates came up to him with messages of support. They know, and manager Gabe Kapler was adamant afterward, that there are much better things to come.
“If you take away the three runs in the sixth, I was really proud of the way he handled some adversity in the first three innings,” Bailey said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I thought you threw the ball well. It’s probably not gonna happen too many times that you give up four homers in a night.’”
After the Padres’ third homer, Harrison retired 10 of the next 12 batters he faced.
But, sent back out for the sixth inning with his pitch count at 72, Harrison wasn’t able to complete the inning.
Asked if fatigue was a factor, pitching on four days’ rest after throwing a season-high 91 pitches in his last start, Harrison responded bluntly: “No.”
“I’m not going to use that as an excuse and I don’t think any guy here would. I just got beat,” he said. “I’m trying to compete with every pitch and I didn’t execute four pitches. It led to some home runs that unfortunately didn’t give the guys a chance to win the ballgame.”
Harrison averaged 93.7 mph on the 61 fastballs he threw, down slightly from an average of 94.4 in his first two starts, and he generated nine swings and misses on those offerings. However, his 91st and final pitch was a fastball that clocked only 91.8 mph. Cooper turned it around at 107.1 mph and into the seats in left-center field.
“He’s built for this,” Kapler said, also downplaying a fatigue as an issue. “He’s a big, physical, strong guy. Young. Capable of bouncing back. And through every point in the game we talked to him, he felt great and the stuff looked great.”
Harrison became the first left-hander in the modern era to strike out at least 40% of the batters he faced in his first two big-league starts, racking up an impressive ledger of victims, and he flashed the same swing-and-miss stuff Saturday. He powered a heater past Fernando Tatis Jr. in the first inning and finished with five strikeouts, still short of the 11 punchouts he recorded over 6⅓ shutout innings in his home debut against the Reds.
But baseball at its highest level is a game of adjustments, as the Giants have learned the hard way this year. Torrid starts for rookies such as Casey Schmitt and Luis Matos quickly turned tepid as professional pitchers learned how to attack them.
Harrison, despite his electric arsenal, is no exception.
“The league adjusts to you. They tend to do a better job the more they see you,” Kapler said before the game, using their opposition for comparison. “Blake Snell’s a decent example on the other side. As a young player, he had great stuff. The league’s adjusted along the way and he’s made adjustments back.”
Snell won the American League Cy Young with the Rays in 2018, going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, and is in contention for the National League honor this year. But in the four years in between, Snell suffered from inconsistency and posted a pedestrian 3.85 ERA.
On Saturday, the Giants had no answer for the hard-throwing lefty.
Snell, who lowered his ERA to an NL-best 2.50, could become the first player in history to lead the league in walks and ERA. He issued four free passes, bringing his season total to 89, and the Giants ran up his pitch count to 113 to knock him out after six innings.
But Snell, who is also second in strikeouts, punched out eight Giants hitters, and San Francisco stranded all seven runners who reached base against him. They were hitless in their first seven chances with runners in scoring position, until Austin Slater doubled home Casey Schmitt in the ninth, and left 11 men on base while striking out 12 total times.
“He’s probably got the best stuff in the game,” Bailey said. “As a hitter, you have to stay aggressive because it’s good stuff and it’s a powerful fastball. But at the same time, if you’re too aggressive and you’re chasing, it’s exactly what you’re looking for.”
After taking a sparkling 1.86 ERA into his third major-league start, Harrison now owns a 4.70 mark. All of the eight runs he has allowed have come via the long ball.
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Peppering the inside corner against Soto, the left-handed slugger got ahold of a heater that caught a little too much of the plate to open the scoring. Bogaerts and Sánchez both punished offspeed pitches, like Bryce Harper did to Harrison in his debut last week.
Harrison’s struggles made Kapler reflect on his time in major-league spring training this year, when he posted a 19.64 ERA in three appearances in his first big-league camp. Harrison also wasn’t without his shortage of tough outings at Triple-A, where he had a 4.66 ERA before getting called up.
This one felt different, Kapler said.
“I’ve seen him when it’s not gonna work,” Kapler said. “There were outings where he didn’t have his best stuff. There were big misses, falling behind in counts, walking dudes. During those times, I thought to myself, ‘Kyle’s not ready. This is not gonna work.’ … But that, what he did (tonight), that’s going to work. Very confident that’s going to work. A couple guys who are some of the best hitters out there did some damage against him.
“If goes out there and he fills up the zone and he’s efficient the way he has been the last couple times out, I’ll hammer that that’s going to work over a long period of time. The outcome and the final line is not going to look good. But he did a really good job out there tonight.”
The Giants will have Alex Cobb on the mound Sunday as they try to salvage a split in the four-game series. He came one out short of a no-hitter in his last start.