Kyle Harrison

Harrison efficiently passes first Coors Field test in Giants' win

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Even as he sucked on a refreshing bottle of oxygen to combat the Colorado altitude, Giants starting pitcher Kyle Harrison pleaded for more. And who could blame him. 

Harrison had dominated the first seven rounds of his debut fight with Coors Field. Pitchers toe the rubber there to see their ERAs explode and their confidence implode. Harrison used his Coors Field debut Tuesday to show the kind of reliable young arm he can be for the Giants in their much-needed 5-0 win against the Colorado Rockies to snap a four-game skid. 

Through his first 14 career starts – seven last season and seven so far this season – Harrison had yet to be given the ball in Denver. But he actually used his previous experiences in the Pacific Coast League pitching for the Sacramento River Cats to his advantage.

“I played a lot of minor league games in Salt Lake and Reno and these places where I kind of have no excuse to not show up on this day,” Harrison said to reporters in Denver after the win. “I felt great out there. Shape of pitches were fine, honestly, and any time you got two strikeouts, you got a hell of defense behind you.” 

Rockies leadoff hitter Brenton Doyle struck out on Harrison’s first three pitches of the night, two fastballs and a changeup for a called strike three. Harrison then went 14 batters before his next strikeout, surprising Sean Bouchard with a 94-mph fastball down the middle for the third out of the fourth inning.

“It’s about not going out there and trying to strike somebody out and to get to two strikes,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said. “If you can get early-pitch contact and keep your pitch count down, that means you’re going to be out there a little longer.” 

In each of Harrison’s last two starts, he had racked up seven strikeouts. Harrison was averaging nearly five-and-a-half strikeouts per start this season, but only two was the perfect dose on the way to him throwing a career-high seven innings. 

The Rockies grounded out 11 times off Harrison and flew out six times. 

The Giants made it a point to improve their defense this season, and flashed the leather on several occasions. Jung Hoo Lee also made his Coors Field debut Tuesday, going 3-for-5 at the plate for his first career three-hit game, and also ran down the two longest hit balls of the day.

First, Lee tracked a 398-foot Ezequiel Tovar fly out in the third inning that had a .720 expected batting average and would have been a homer in six MLB ballparks. Then in the fifth, he caught a 391-foot blast at the wall off Jordan Beck’s bat that had a .410 expected batting average and would have been gone in 18 parks.

Thairo Estrada should consistently find himself in the mix for a Gold Glove, and went high-flying to show why. 

“They made some great plays today,” Harrison said. “Estrada was unbelievable at second. Jung Hoo, I could go on about everyone. They were great today.” 

The biggest difference in Harrison's start Tuesday compared to his last was how he commanded the zone and controlled the game. Yes, Harrison struck out seven Red Sox five days prior. He also walked five. In his previous six starts before facing Boston, Harrison had registered five walks – a sign of major improvements and development from his rookie year. 

His five walks at Fenway Park could have been a precursor for his Coors debut. Reality was the opposite. Harrison totaled 86 pitches and two walks, threw a first-pitch ball to just seven of the 27 batters he faced and allowed his defense to get their jobs done. 

“I think that’s always the approach,” Harrison said. “And that’s something that I’ve really been trying to do this year is come out and throw strikes and attack these guys. If you’re playing at a ballpark like this, you definitely want to attack. 

“You can’t have any wasted opportunities.” 

Harrison became the sixth Giants starting pitcher ever to throw seven or more scoreless innings at Coors Field, joining Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. Zito was 33 years old, Schmidt was 31, Ortiz was 28, Lincecum was four days from turning 24 and Cain, like Harrison, was 22. 

Every game Harrison has started this season has been after a loss. The Giants now are 6-2 in said games. 

The electricity that emanates from his left arm can turn the stadium lights on throughout most of his starts. But in a hitter’s paradise, Harrison shut the lights off on a lowly Rockies offense because of a veteran’s mentality well beyond his years, serving as an example of maturity he can lean on as the years go on.

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