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Kyle Harrison has a good debut as Giants lose, 4-3

The Giants lost again, but not because of the pitching.

View from behind Kyle Harrison as he reaches back to throw a pitch Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Yes... HA HA HA... YES! Kyle Harrison delivered on a promise. The San Francisco Giants just might have their next big pitching prospect. He had as much hype around him as any rookie the Giants have ever had and he didn’t disappoint tonight in his major league debut.

65 pitches, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk. Topped out at 97 mph with his four-seamer. Dominated an elite group of hitters with his fastball. The majority of major league hitters can handle a four-seamer just fine. The weird part of the night was how he handled the righties better than the lefties in the Phillies’ lineup, but I think that’s to be expected with a secondary pitch either handedness seemed to be able to spot right away.

I am a De La Salle High School alum so it’s really cool to see the San Francisco Giants draft and develop a stud pitcher from a place so important to me. Two of my favorite things, together at last! I’m going to ride this selfish note a bit more because I really did get in the recap saddle tonight with the express purpose of focusing on this start.

Prospects will break your heart but until they do they allow you to dream. Every leading indicator just kept suggesting, “Get excited. Be excited. Stay excited.” The 14.6 K/9 tantalized. The walk rate, while a problem, showed signs of improvement of late and there was every indication that he was easy to coach and had a work ethic that would help him adjust to the big leagues quickly.

Nobody does it alone, of course, and it was heartening to see his family and his high school coach in attendance watching him accomplish his dream. It’s impossible to project a full career from a single evening, but tonight didn’t poison any prognostication.

My Giants-Phillies series preview featured a very modest projection from BryanGraphs:

Kyle Harrison’s fastball-slider combo promises Peak Alex Wood, and lest you think I’m condemning the rook before he throws a major league pitch, consider that for his first six seasons he was about 20% better than the [league] average, limiting home runs and walks while striking out hitters at a decent clip. Heck he was even an All-Star one year.

That was based on talking to Roger Munter on the Giants Chroncast (formerly McCovey Chroncast) and the general industry scouting reports on him.

I giggled when I saw how wrong I was. He threw an easy 94-96 for most of the night. It’s really easy to watch a rookie and try to Memory Game match him to someone you’d seen before after years of watching Major League Baseball. No one immediately came to my mind; then, after the game, I saw this tweet:

Yeah... Carlos Rodón... that I could see. At least a little bit. Remarkably, Rodón’s entire career has existed in the Statcast era, and he made his debut in his age-22 season just like Harrison has. One start is not really a smart thing to compare anything with, but this is a recap for a fan site so it’s actually the exact right situation to do that; and so, looking at Rodón’s average spin on his four-seam fastball all the way back in 2015 and I see a better one in Kyle Harrison’s!


4-Seam Fastball: 94.5 mph average velocity, 2,365 rpm


4-Seam Fastball: 94.2 mph average velocity, 2,255 rpm

Hmmm... all right, all right. That’s good, that’s good. I’m liking that. What about that spin rate, though? Who’s a 2023 comp?

Yes... HA HA HA... YES! I’ve gotta say, I like the idea of the San Francisco Giants having a Carlos Rodón-type under their guidance and medical staff from the very beginning of his career. The White Sox organization seems like a rough hang.

A lot of the pre-game excitement involved linking Harrison to Lincecum’s debut against the Phillies... 16... years ago... which is no slight to Logan Webb, who has blossomed into an ace every bit as worthy as a link to the chain of that championship era, but a power lefty with strikeout stuff is the arm of dreams. We got everything we wanted except a win.

Here’s MLB dot com’s montage of Harrison’s strikeouts from tonight:

I wouldn’t say his slurve was “non-competitive,” but it definitely needs some work. Same with the changeup. Statcast suggests he threw one cutter, too. The Giants had him on a pitch count of 60-65 and the fastball wound up being the pitch that worked best, so it made all the sense in the world to ride it as long as he could.

Some other notes:

  • Bryce Harper’s obliteration of Harrison’s slurve in the 1st inning is the first home run he’s allowed to a left-handed hitter this season at any level
  • Trea Turner was Harrison’s first major league strikeout and his first major league out recorded via a ball in play... more on Trea Turner in a minute, I guess
  • Of the 47 times he threw his four-seamer, 11 were swung on and missed, 9 were called strikes

About the game itself... wow, wild way to end that one, am I right? All night balls were onomatopoeiaing around Citizens Bank Park, missing or glancing off desperate mitts as though both teams had choreographed a highlight reel awaiting a Chris Berman voiceover.

Trea Turner’s DOINK off Thairo Estrada’s glove in the bottom of the 9th that proved to be the game winner bookended a really funny evening for the slumping Giants. The 1st inning started with LaMonte Wade Jr. reaching first base on an error by Alec Bohm tossing to a covering Taijuan Walker at first base. Kyle Schwarber meckler’d a Thairo Estrada single to left which Wade to third, and the Giants were setup for a big inning thanks to bad Phillies defense — oh, how the tables had appeared to have turned!

Wilmer Flores THWAPPED a ball up the middle that Bryson Stott grabbed on an amazing play, and if the energy and momentum of the play had been different, Trea Turner might’ve been able to pivot Stott’s toss into a double play. The Giants got the run, but they were set up to get snuffed out. Or was it?

Yeah, yeah, it was.

Joc Pederson SPROINGED a ball off the second base bag putting runners at 1st and 2nd with just one out, which brought the hope roaring back — maybe the Giants were going to finally have some luck on their side! Instead, Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis struck out to end the threat.

Harper’s hammered homer gave the Phils a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 1st and it looked like the Giants were cruising to another bruising, but then in the bottom of the 5th, the Giants started a two-out rally, something I didn’t think I’d see again this season. Thairo Estrada hit his 23rd double (part of a 3-hit night), Wilmer Flores drew a walk, and then Joc Pederson did the unthinkable: he got an extra base hit for the second night in a row!

If I sound down on Joc Pederson, it’s only because he’s been really bad for a long time. Coming into the series, he had a .645 OPS since June 20th. Last night and tonight mark the first time he’s had an extra base hit in back-to-back games since July 22nd & 23rd. Before that, it was May 10th & 12th.

Anyway, the double came to pass because CF Johan Rojas missed it on a diving catch attempt. Looking at the replay, it looks like he might’ve thought it was the only play he could reasonably make on the ball — it was slicing away from him like crazy, Joc really stung it. He was too shallow to let it fall in front of him and Kyle Schwarber wasn’t going to close the gap in time to back him up either, so it made sense; but, I’m building to something, too.

Taijuan Walker was in trouble that inning and the Phillies left him in to get through it. Looking at his game log, this is no scandal (he hasn’t pitched fewer than 5 innings since June 1st), but in a one-run game and a Giants bench that features just Austin Slater, Blake Sabol, Johan Camargo, and Luis Matos — hardly guys worth worrying about — it was a little surprising that the Phillies weren’t aggressive with a bullpen move.

I think it had something to do with the fact that the Giants are struggling to score. Coming into the game, they were averaging 3.4 runs per game over their last 54 (or since June 19). After tonight, they’re 26-29 since June 19 and 4-12 in their last 16 games. Being the home team, the Phillies certainly felt empowered to take some risks and had the confidence that they could score more than 3 runs.

Meanwhile, the Giants were flawless in their decision making, godlike in their planning, and it still resulted in a loss. As Captain Picard reminded Data, It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That’s life.” Some process hounds want to pervert the meaning of “still lose,” but the fact is that fans and — more importantly — players are bothered by losing. Which the Giants are really good at now.

All that said, it’s easy to get emotional about 12 losses out of 16 games, a situation that tends to activate a bunch of scolds whose main pleasure seems to be tut-tutting fan displeasure. Sure, fans go overboard a bunch (that’s sort of my thing), but during the toughest part of the season which coincides with a stretch run, the Giants have simply been the worst lineup fielded by a major league roster over a third of the season.

Literally THE WORST. Woeful. Irredeemably bad. The depth has been shallow. The veterans have been also-rans. This lineup is a like a memory of an offense and the memory is fading. Sure, the Giants once again went up against a superior force on the home soil of that superior force — the odds were always against them; but once again, the Giants shrunk in the face of pressure.

I saw some online wonder why Doval threw just one slider tonight despite it being his most-used pitch, and I figure it’s probably a combination of how Doval felt tonight (either overall or just about that pitch) coupled with stat scouting. He was set to face Bryson Stott, Jake Cave as the pinch hitter, and Brandon Marsh, then it got to Kyle Schwarber and ultimately, Trea Turner. Here are the Phillies against the sinker:

... the cutter:

... and against the slider:

Stott’s a -2 vs. cutters and above average against Doval’s two other pitches so Stott saw three cutters before getting hit by a pitch. Jake Cave? -4 against the cutter so saw three cutters and then a sinker. Brandon Marsh is the “worst” against the sinker so he got three of those before Doval tried to sneak a 100 mph cutter by him — didn’t work. Not bad process, just a bummer outcome. Notice how Schwarber, who’s bad against the slider, saw the lone slider Doval threw tonight before being intentionally walked. And the game ended because Trea Turner was able to handle a sinker for the first time in a long while, according to Statcast.

So, a confluence of Doval not having his A+-game, the Phillies being really good top to bottom, and a few bad bounces. That’s why the Giants lost the game how they did, but they lost the game because the lineup is unforgivably awful. Not just the 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but 12 strikeouts. Wade Meckler got picked off at first base. Sabol, Camargo, and Austin Slater are providing non competitive at bats. Anything good about this team comes from the pitching. It’s the lineup’s job to be just a little bit better than unbearably awful, and tonight, like most nights, they couldn’t do it.

Other facts to justify your displeasure about tonight and the past 60 days:

  • The Giants are 27-6 when allowing 2 runs or fewer
  • They had a chance to allow just 2 runs tonight
  • They did not do that
  • Although two of them wound up being wins, Camilo Doval has blown three saves in a row (he hadn’t blown 2 in a row before this month)

But congratulations, Kyle Harrison. What a debut. Glad I got to see it.