Mason Black

Why Black's up-and-down MLB debut is least of Giants' concerns

NBC Universal, Inc.

Twelve MLB All-Star Games, seven Silver Slugger Awards, two NL MVPs and one World Series ring. The combined résumé belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies’ first three hitters in their feared 2024 lineup, even without two-time All-Star and former batting champion Trea Turner. 

Giants rookie starting pitcher Mason Black could have been trembling on the inside making his MLB debut Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Surely, he had every reason to feel gut-wrenching nerves. On the outside, Black was quite the opposite in an eventual 6-1 loss against the Phillies. That was evident with the first pitch he threw.

Kyle Schwarber hit 47 home runs last season and 46 the season before. He has hit 30 or more homers five times in his career and already has four leadoff long balls this season alone. Naturally, the first pitch he saw from Black went a whopping two feet. Schwarber rolled over Black’s sinker straight into the ground, dribbling down the first-base line and into Black’s glove for an underhand out. 

The real excitement came from the next two batters, J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper -- two stars who were sent back to their dugout with a strikeout in the box score.

“I don’t even know, I can’t even speak,” an elated George Black, Mason’s father, said on NBC Sports Philadelphia's broadcast. “... I think it’s just unbelievable what he’s able to achieve and all these people supporting him are even more unbelievable.”

Black was born in nearby Scranton, Pa., and played high school baseball two-and-a-half hours away from the Phillies’ home ballpark. He estimated 100 or 200 people filled the stands in his support. 

“It means a lot being close to home,” Black told reporters in Philadelphia. “I felt bad, being a getaway day I wasn’t able to see every person out there. But it was incredible.” 

The fourth batter Black faced, Alec Bohm, entered Monday as MLB’s batting average leader at .360. Black got him to pop out in foul territory to first baseman Wilmer Flores on a sweeper. Nick Castellanos, who was an All-Star last season and hit 29 homers, was the fifth batter of the game Black faced and the first to get a hit on a broken-bat 77-mph single to center field that fell in front of a sprinting Jung Hoo Lee. 

Through four innings, Black had allowed one earned run on three hits, three walks and four strikeouts. Though he wasn’t exactly on Phillies ace Zack Wheeler’s level, Black was more than holding his own. Then the fifth inning happened. 

Black allowed four earned runs in the fifth on five hits – two singles, two doubles and one homer – while recording one out. The inning began with an 111.5-mph single from Schwarber, followed by a 103.9-mph single from Realmuto and a 101.3-mph three-run shot off Harper’s bat. 

“Just can’t leave a fastball middle-middle to a good hitter,” Black said of Harper’s homer. “Plain and simple. A lot of these guys, once they see you once or twice they’ll figure out what you’re trying to do, so just a learning process.” 

Looking at Black’s box score of 4 1/3 innings pitched and five earned runs on eight hits, Giants manager Bob Melvin said, “It doesn’t really suggest how he pitched. He hasn’t pitched deep into games. We needed him to go out for the fifth today, and that’s kind of  where it all came loose. 

“Early on, two times through the lineup, he was really good. I’m proud of him.” 

The state of the Giants’ starting rotation and bullpen is that of a depleted unit. Within Melvin’s answer, however, a problem persists. Black in his last start threw four scoreless innings. He hadn’t gone past the fifth inning once this season in Triple-A Sacramento, and the most pitches he previously had thrown this year was 71. 

Harper’s homer came on Black’s 74th pitch of the day, and his debut ended at 84 pitches. Adrenaline can be a hell of boost, but Black certainly wasn’t set up for an easy stroll in his first big-league start. 

Melvin believes Black proved he deserves another start, and his loss was far from the Giants’ biggest problem.

Sunday’s loss marked the first time in 18 games that the Giants scored more than three runs, all for them to score once the next day – going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. Jung Hoo Lee singled to begin the game, and a LaMonte Wade Jr. single two batters later put Lee in scoring position. A Wilmer Flores double play then ended the inning, and Flores was one of two players – along with Wade – to do anything against Wheeler. 

Matt Chapman struck out all three times he faced Wheeler. He was 0-for-4 in the loss, flying out to second base for the final at-bat of the game. The Giants were swept by the Phillies in a four-game set, and Chapman was a big part of that.

Chapman went 1-for-15 for the series, striking out eight times to drop his batting average down to .209 on the season. He has struck out 41 times in 36 games this season, the 11th-most strikeouts in the NL, and has walked just eight times all season. Known as a historically great defender, Chapman committed three errors in the series, and his six on the season are more than the five he had in 155 games two years ago. 

Giants starting pitchers threw 13 total innings in four games against the Phillies, giving up 22 hits and 16 earned runs. The Giants are 1-6 on a grueling 10-game road trip, are a season-worst six games below .500 at 15-21, and their stars are lacking shine at the moment. 

An up-and-down debut from a promising 24-year-old is the least of the Giants’ worries on their way to three games at Coors Field, where a series victory against the eight-win Colorado Rockies is a must.

“We got to clean it up, we got to play better,” Melvin said. “We left, what were we one game under .500? We weren’t playing very well. 

“I thought that might be a pretty good place for us, being that we hadn’t played well, and now we’re playing terribly.”

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