Kyle Hurt couldn’t have written a more dispiriting and exciting opening act, with the newest Dodgers pitcher mowing down the heart of the San Diego Padres lineup – Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Manny Machado – with a fly out and two ground outs in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 11-2 win.
For an encore, the 25-year-old right-hander struck out the team in the bottom of the ninth, with Garrett Cooper throwing an 86 mph changeup, Trent Grisham hitting a 96 mph fastball and Matthew Batten hitting an 87 mph changeup -mph change.
All that was left for the former Torrey Pines High School and USC star to cap off his memorable big league debut was…meet his manager?
“The first time I saw him today,” Dodgers field manager Dave Roberts said, “was shaking hands at the end of the game.”
Yes, it was “a pretty, pretty crazy 24 hours,” as Hurt said in the clubhouse afterward, still beaming as he met local reporters for the first time.
Hurt, ranked as the organization’s 12th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, was in Oklahoma City late Monday night after a 5-4 win over Tulsa when he received a call from Triple-A manager Travis Barbary that he would be called up.
After a mostly sleepless night – “I stayed up thinking about it for a while,” he said – Hurt took a flight to Los Angeles on Tuesday, landed at LAX in the late afternoon and fought traffic to Dodger Stadium, where he arrived at 6 p.m Arrived at:45 p.m., about 25 minutes before first pitch.
Hurt, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins before the 2021 season, suited up and went to the bullpen in left field without meeting Roberts or most of the team’s position players who were warming up on the field.
A much-needed boost came toward the end of Lance Lynn’s seven-inning, two-run, five-hit, 111-pitch start after the veteran right-hander was on fire for 15 earned runs and 14 hits – six of them home runs – in nine innings of his Last two starts, Hurt was told he would pitch the eighth.
While Padres veteran Rich Hill, a 43-year-old left-hander who has thrown 1,402 innings in 19 big league seasons, brought up the bottom of the seventh, Hurt prepared to face three sluggers who made 10 All-Star Game appearances and have six of them to show for. Among them are the Silver Slugger Awards and they have hit a total of 81 home runs this season.
As he jogged to the mound in a 9-2 game, the words of his teammates echoed in his head.
“Every single guy in the bullpen that talked to me during the game just said, ‘Be yourself, be yourself, don’t change anything,'” the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Hurt said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
With a lively four-seam fastball that averaged 96.6 mph and topped out at 97.9 mph with a changeup of 87 mph, Hurt needed just 24 pitches, 19 of which were strikes, to send six consecutive batters out of the game.
“Man, that was exciting,” Roberts said. “The way he performed was really special. The life on the fastball, the changeup… and he just wouldn’t run from the spot. It is a series of batsmen that will remain in his memory forever. It doesn’t get any better or harder.”
It didn’t hurt that Hurt had some margin for error, the Dodgers built a huge lead behind Freddie Freeman, who celebrated his 34th birthday with four hits, including a two-run home run and his 55th double, which came in the Major League led by four runs, and Will Smith, who doubled in the first inning and hit a three-run home run to center in the fourth inning.
But that didn’t detract from Hurt’s performance in front of 42,194 people at Dodger Stadium, including his parents, his girlfriend, his agent and several high school friends.
“I think we all saw him for the first time when he came into the game,” Freeman said. “As we went through the first inning with Fernando, Juan and Manny…you could see from the side perspective that his fastball came out hot, it looked like a different kind of heater, and he played that changeup off of it.
“I’ve heard about our pitchers in the minor leagues and they’re coming out now and they look great. And then to make a big league debut like that is something special. It’s something he and his family will always have.”
Hurt opened 2023 in Tulsa as part of a highly touted Double-A pitching team that included Emmet Sheehan, Landon Knack, Nick Frasso, River Ryan and Nick Nastrini and was promoted to Triple-A in early August.
He had the highest strikeout rate in minor league baseball this season with a 3.87 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 41 walks in 88⅓ innings over 25 games – 16 of them starts – in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Hurt’s first major league stint could be brief. Roberts said before Tuesday night’s game that Hurt was here to provide short-term relief for a loaded bullpen and not necessarily to compete for a playoff roster spot on a team whose rotation has been hit by elbow injuries to Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin Affected late in the season were Clayton Kershaw’s speed-limiting shoulder injury, Walker Buehler’s aborted comeback from Tommy John surgery and Julio Urías’ recent domestic violence arrest.
The Dodgers need a roster spot for Joe Kelly, who is expected to be activated for Wednesday night’s series finale against the Padres after missing a month with an elbow injury. Therefore, it is very possible that Hurt will return directly to Triple-A.
But after Tuesday night’s performance, could the Dodgers change their original plan and keep a Hurt locker in their clubhouse a little longer?
“He did what he could, what we hoped he would do, and we’ll sit back and think about what we’re going to do,” Roberts said. “Joe Kelly is coming back so a decision has to be made. But it was nice to see Kyle throwing so well.”