Kyle Harrison

Harrison shows growth in strong start to second MLB season

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SAN DIEGO -- A lot has changed about the San Diego Padres since they hung six runs on Kyle Harrison in his third career start last September. 

Their manager is now Harrison's manager. The winning pitcher that night, Blake Snell, is now his teammate. Juan Soto, the superstar who hit the first of four homers off Harrison, is now a New York Yankee.

But a lot has changed about Harrison since that night, too. 

The 22-year-old was in the gym as soon as his first season ended, physically and mentally preparing himself for the grind of starting every five days in the big leagues. As Harrison learned how to put himself in the best position before and after starts, he also sharpened his four-pitch mix. The fastball and slider got him to the big leagues, but being able to command a changeup and cutter is what will keep him atop a rotation for years to come. 

Harrison rode his fastball all night long Friday, throwing it on 55 of 72 pitches. He got all five of his strikeouts with the pitch, with the top four in the Padres' lineup -- Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado -- all going down on strikes. 

The most impressive pitch of the night, though, might have been a changeup, and it was a sign of Harrison's improvement year over year. 

Ha-Seong Kim was on the heater in his first at-bat, fouling two straight back to the screen. Harrison responded by dropping a perfect changeup right below the zone, which Kim bounced softly to short. 

Would 2023 Kyle Harrison have made the adjustment that quickly? Would he have been able to execute with the changeup the way he did on Friday?

"No. No, not necessarily," he said after Friday's 8-3 win. "My last start [of the spring] didn't go that well and I really was mostly fastball-slider and I wanted to mix in the change early [tonight] and I saw that Kim was the perfect opportunity. He kept fighting the fastball and I'm like, 'I can just drop a changeup down low here and have him roll over and get himself out.'

"I definitely felt good with that pitch."

Harrison threw just five changeups in his start against the Padres last year, but he mixed in a dozen on Friday, along with nine sliders. The full repertoire is coming along, but it always will be the fastball that is leading the pack, and it was dominant on Friday night. 

Harrison made just two mistakes -- a slider to Machado and changeup to Tatis -- and those two are talented enough that both balls left the yard. But for the rest of six innings, he pounded the zone with his fastball, getting early strikes and then locating it well when he had count leverage. Tatis -- who homered twice -- learned a particularly tough lesson. 

"He has a great arm and he's super-competitive," said third baseman Matt Chapman, who led the lineup. "Even after he gave up a couple of homers, he was able to come back, and I think that's important. He was able to bounce right back and get outs and that's how you pitch deep into games."

Harrison completed six innings for the second time in eight big league starts and went without a walk for the first time. He was so efficient that he was at just 76 pitches when Kim flew out to end the sixth, but Bob Melvin felt it was a pretty easy decision to go to Landen Roupp and the rest of the bullpen. 

The Giants haven't offered much in terms of how they will handle Harrison, but there aren't a lot of easy ways to limit his innings given the fact that he started the season as the No. 2 starter. If he pitches like this, he'll be in the rotation through September -- and perhaps longer -- so Melvin will have to find spots to save some bullets. 

"We'll see how it goes," Melvin said. "There's no real formula for innings. It's more about seeing how he feels from outing to outing. We'll go from there. The pitch count was under control. When you throw the ball over the plate, you're going to give up -- especially to that team -- a homer or two, but if they're solo home runs you can live with it. He didn't put himself in a position where there was a lot of traffic."

It's easier for others to live with the homers than the man who gave them up, and Harrison admitted he was "pissed about the two bombs." At the end of the day, though, Harrison walked away as the winning pitcher, and he got what could be a Rookie of the Year campaign off to a very strong start. 

For six innings, he showed a good lineup just how far he has come since the last time he was here.

"I'd say just, I'm able to pitch. I'm able to slow the game down and trust myself and trust my execution," he said. "It felt good to be able to be in control of the game. I think that's the big difference I felt."

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