SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants printed out their game notes for the media on Monday afternoon, a few team officials noticed something interesting. For the first time in months, it seemed, the letters “TBD” were nowhere to be found.
The Giants have had a two-man rotation throughout the 2023 MLB season’s second half, and for nearly all of the year there has been ambiguity about at least one of the spots in a given series. Often it’s more than that. On more than one occasion, the team has used Logan Webb and Alex Cobb in a series and then headed to the next town with no announced starters for the following three games.
As the Cincinnati Reds arrived, though, there was a return to normalcy. Kyle Harrison got the first game, and he’ll be followed by Cobb and Webb. That’s not going to change anytime soon, either. With how good Harrison was on Monday, there’s no doubt he’s here for good.
Manager Gabe Kapler has gotten used to being asked about his rotation plans at the end of postgame press conferences, with the back-and-forth usually going something like this:
Reporter: “Do you have a starter for tomorrow?”
Kapler: “We’re still working through some things. We’ll get that to you when we can.”
As he finished up Monday night, there was no need for Kapler to answer any questions about the rest of the series or what Harrison will be doing five days from now. Instead, he was asked how Harrison’s performance could raise the ceiling for the Giants down the stretch.
“Yeah, it’s worthy of getting a little higher,” he said. “Again, I don’t want to go too far over the top, but it’s exactly what our team needs. It’s another guy in the middle of the rotation, will take the ball regularly, go deep into games. This is no guarantee that that’s going to be how it is every time out, but he’s got the capability.
“It’s what we saw coming for a couple of years, probably what Michael Holmes saw in him when he [drafted him in 2020]. In many ways, Kyle Haines has a lot to do with Kyle’s ascent through the minor leagues, and all the coaches that touched him along the way. Everybody could visualize — maybe not exactly this — but him making a huge start for us in his first home appearance.”
Haines, who runs the organization’s minor league operations, was on hand for the debut, along with Keith Snider, who scouted Harrison at De La Salle High in Concord. It was a moment the front office has been waiting for since Harrison dominated St. Francis High just before the pandemic, validating everything Holmes and the rest of his staff felt about the left-hander.
The first night couldn’t have gone any better, with Harrison becoming the first Giant since Randy Johnson to strike out the first five hitters of a game. He finished with 11, but as the Giants head into September, that was not the most important number.
For months, Harrison sat patiently as the Giants forced him to operate with a strict pitch count. He came out of Triple-A games in the third or fourth inning knowing there was more in the tank. Harrison would get excited every time the number nudged closer to 100, and on Monday, with some trepidation, Kapler let him throw 91 pitches.
It was eight more than Harrison had thrown over the previous five months, but he didn’t feel the strain. This is what he’s been building for. Harrison showed up at the team facility after getting drafted as a teenager and realized he would be playing with men. In the low minors, he went too far in the other direction, but he has settled into a sturdy frame. He wants more on his plate, and the Giants finally allowed it.
“I was comfortable,” Harrison said. “They kept going, ‘How are you doing?’ I was like, ‘I’m good.’ This adrenaline is a little different here. I just [fed] off that.”
Harrison isn’t quite built up to be a normal starter right now, but as the Giants head into the final month, he’s close. They were patient in April and May in hopes of saving some bullets for the games that matter most, and Harrison has plenty left to give. The Giants now have a third starter who is capable of giving them five or six innings every fifth day, and if things keep heading in this direction, Harrison could be making postseason starts two months after his debut.
It’s early, and there will be bumps in the road, but this is exactly what the Giants needed. Harrison, with one spectacular night, raised their floor and their ceiling after two months of baseball that was hard to watch at times.
Perhaps this is the way it was meant to be all along. That’s the message Webb sent to his friend after a quiet trade deadline.
“I texted him and said that shows you they trust you, they believe in you,” Webb said. “They want you to be here. I think this was true to that, right?”