HOUSTON -- Hunter Brown had never actually been on the field at Minute Maid Park prior to Monday, which is why he took some time pregame to walk around and get the lay of the land. The Astros’ No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, had worked his whole life to get to this point, and it was time to let it all sink in.
Brown was clearly unfazed by his surroundings or the large Labor Day crowd of 35,162, which cheered his every move. He took the field to “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent -- “The Motor City Madman” -- and then the kid from Detroit made some music of his own with an electric Major League debut.
The 24-year-old right-hander threw six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out five batters to send the Astros to a 1-0 win in the series opener against the Rangers. He began the game with a 97.4 mph fastball that Marcus Semien took for a strike, and he never stopped pumping the heat.
“I was definitely nervous,” Brown said. “As the outing went on, [the nerves] subsided. Overall, I was definitely nervous.”
You would never have known it, considering the way Brown commanded the mound and the moment. He struck out Semien looking and Corey Seager swinging to start his career and didn’t allow a hit until nine-hole hitter Bubba Thompson rolled a two-out single to right field in the third. He threw 79 pitches (56 strikes) and had 10 outs on the ground.
“Impressive,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “The first couple of innings, he threw the ball really, really good. He reminded me of [Justin Verlander] back in the day -- a young J.V. -- when J.V. was still doing his thing. But Hunter -- big curveball, power slider, power fastball. He located the fastball better than I thought he was going to. He was impressive, even from the bullpen.”
Brown relied mostly on his four-seam fastball, which he threw 41 times at an average of 96.1 mph, and his curve, which he threw 23 times. His slider, which he threw 12 times, came in at an average of 93 mph, including a 95.7 mph slider that he threw to Semien in the first inning. The only starting pitcher to throw a slider harder this season is the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.
He got eight outs on his four-seamer, seven on his curveball and one each on his slider and changeup.
“I thought I had some pretty good stuff today,” Brown said. “I had both breaking balls going at times. My fastball was really good early. I was happy with it.”
“Brown did a nice job,” Rangers interim manager Tony Beasley said. “You have to give him credit. He had a live fastball and a nice little breaking ball, and he attacked. He forced us into contact. He walked one guy. He just attacked the zone and did what you expect a pitcher to do. So just tip the hat."
Brown dominated the Pacific Coast League this year at Triple-A Sugar Land, but the Astros had no room for him in their starting rotation. A right calf injury to Verlander -- Brown’s idol growing up in Detroit -- helped open the door for Brown, who joined Houston when rosters expanded on Sept. 1.
“We knew coming in that he was the No. 1 prospect for a reason,” Maldonado said. “We think his stuff is electric. He’s going to get hitters out. Just go out there and compete. … He was a little fired up from the get-go. That's nice to see.”
Brown was efficient through four innings, never throwing more than 13 pitches, but a 26-pitch fifth got his pitch count up. He threw only seven pitches in the sixth, retiring the top three in the Rangers’ order the third time through. That’s when Astros manager Dusty Baker turned to his rested bullpen. The rookie had done enough.
“He was losing some of the hop on his fastball, and we thought he had enough, especially with a fresh bullpen that didn't work [Sunday],” Baker said.
Brown walked off the mound to a huge ovation and received congratulations in the dugout, including some knuckles from Verlander -- his idol and now his teammate.
“He said, ‘Welcome to the big leagues, man,’” Brown said. “‘Nice job.’”
Nice job, indeed.