The best debuts in AL/NL history

April 25th, 2023

Every player's Major League debut is one of the most memorable moments of their life. But only a select few are just as memorable for baseball fans everywhere.

From one-hit wonders to all-time greats, on the mound and at the plate, here are some of the best MLB debuts ever.


Brendan McKay, Rays LHP/DH (June 29, 2019 vs. Rangers)
Final line: 6 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 3 K, 1 BB
A two-way talent who turned into the Rays' top pitching prospect, McKay was amazing in his MLB debut on the mound. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning at Tropicana Field, only losing it on a bloop single. McKay's 5 1/3 perfect innings set a new franchise record for a pitcher making his Major League debut -- Jeremy Hellickson previously held the record after retiring 10 straight to open his career in 2010. The 23-year-old's outing was also the second-longest perfect game bid in a debut since 1961, and tied with Ken Cloude for the longest by an American Leaguer.

Daniel Ponce de Leon, Cardinals RHP (July 23, 2018 vs. Reds)
Final line: 7 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 3 K, 3 BB

Just 14 months after undergoing emergency surgery to repair a cracked skull -- an injury he sustained when being struck by a line drive during an outing for Triple-A Memphis -- Ponce de Leon turned in one of the most memorable pitching debuts in history, and he did so while making a spot start for a Cardinals club playing its sixth game in five days. On a crisp night in Cincinnati, Ponce de Leon carried a no-hitter through seven innings, becoming just the fifth pitcher to do so that deep into a game in his debut in the Expansion Era (since 1961), according to Elias. Alas, the 26-year-old was plagued by a 116-pitch count that kept him from attempting to become the first pitcher since 1892 to complete a no-no in his MLB debut.

Freddy Peralta, Brewers RHP (May 13, 2018 vs. Rockies)
Final line: 5 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 13 K, 2 BB
Despite throwing a four-seam fastball on nearly every pitch, the 21-year-old Peralta was nearly untouchable in his MLB debut. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and became just the fifth pitcher in the live-ball era to strike out at least 13 batters in his Major League debut, joining Stephen Strasburg (14 strikeouts in 2010), J.R. Richard (15 in 1971), Karl Spooner (15 in 1954 and Cliff Melton (13 in 1937).

Nick Kingham, Pirates RHP (April 29, 2018 vs. Cardinals)
Final line: 7 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 9 K, 0 BB
Making his first MLB appearance since the Pirates drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, Kingham was sensational as he carried a perfect-game bid against the Cardinals into the seventh inning. Even though the 26-year-old rookie ultimately fell short of history, he joined All-Star Johnny Cueto as the only pitchers since at least 1908 to allow one or fewer hits, strike out nine batters and not walk any in their MLB debut.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals RHP (June 8, 2010 vs. Pirates)
Final line: 7 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 14 K, 0 BB
In one of the most hyped and anticipated Major League debuts in recent history, Strasburg lived up to the reputation that preceded him out of San Diego State as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft. The 21-year-old right-hander was overpowering against the Pirates at Nationals Park, fanning 14 Pittsburgh batters to become the third pitcher since at least 1908 to strike out 14 or more in his big league debut -- the Astros' J.R. Richard struck out 15 Giants in his Major League debut on Sept. 5, 1971, and Karl Spooner also struck out 15 in his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Giants on Sept. 22, 1954.

Johnny Cueto, Reds RHP (April 3, 2008 vs. D-backs)
Final line: 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 10 K, 0 BB
Not all stellar debuts lead to sustained success during a rookie season, and Cueto suffered plenty of bumps later on in his rookie campaign. But the Dominican righty showed right away that his command and his stuff had elite potential when he shut down Arizona over seven excellent frames. Cueto was perfect until Justin Upton led off the sixth with a solo home run, but the rookie was unfazed, retiring the last six batters he faced after that. Cueto finished as the first pitcher in modern history to pair at least 10 strikeouts with no walks in his first MLB appearance.

Jason Jennings, Rockies RHP (Aug. 23, 2001 vs. Mets)
Final line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 8 K, 4 BB. Batting: 3-for-5, HR, 2 RBIs
Jennings was stellar not only on the mound, from which he tossed a shutout of the Mets in a 10-0 Rockies victory at Shea Stadium in his Major League debut, but at the plate, where he hit his first career homer. After making seven starts (4.58 ERA) in 2001, Jennings was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2002, going 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA in 32 starts for Colorado.

Steve Woodard, Brewers RHP (July 28, 1997 vs. Blue Jays)
Final line: 8 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 12 K, 1 BB
As a youthful 22-year-old, Woodard made his MLB debut against the Blue Jays and didn't disappoint. He picked up his first win, allowing one hit and striking out 12 batters. He threw 76 of his 119 pitches for strikes. Woodard induced six ground balls and seven flyouts, while producing a 91 game score.

J.R. Richard, Astros RHP (Sept. 5, 1971 vs. Giants)
Final line: 9 IP, 3 R (2 ER), 7 H, 15 K, 3 BB
If fans were unaware of Richard's triple-digit fastball or low-90s slider before he took the mound against Willie Mays' Giants, they certainly were aware by the time he delivered his final pitch. Richard's 15 strikeouts (which tied a big league record for most in an MLB debut) included three punchouts of Mays and two more against Bobby Bonds. With Mays due up fourth in the ninth, Richard struck out the side to put an emphatic exclamation point on his first Major League appearance. Houston's ace-in-the-making would later record back-to-back 300-strikeout seasons, in 1978 and '79, before a stroke ended his career at age 30.

Luis Tiant, Indians RHP (July 19, 1964 vs. Yankees)
Final line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 11 K, 4 BB
Tiant was dominant in his MLB debut against the Yankees. He pitched a shutout and struck out 11 batters against a Yankees lineup that included Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle and All-Stars Roger Maris and Tom Tresh. Tiant also outdueled one of the game's best pitchers, Whitey Ford. Tiant finished his career as a three-time All-Star with 229 wins and 2,416 strikeouts.

Juan Marichal, Giants RHP (July 19, 1960 vs. Phillies)
Final line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 12 K, 1 BB
Marichal opened a sensational career with a sensational debut at Candlestick Park, dominating against the Phillies in the first of 11 rookie starts (2.66 ERA) for the right-hander in 1960. Marichal had a no-hitter for 7 2/3 innings before pinch-hitter Clay Dalrymple singled to center field. In a sign of things to come, Marichal retired the next four Phillies to complete San Francisco's 2-0 victory. Marichal posted a 2.89 ERA over a 16-year Hall-of-Fame career, and was inducted in Cooperstown in 1983.

Karl Spooner, Dodgers RHP (Sept. 22, 1954 vs. Giants)
Final line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 15 K, 3 BB
Spooner pitched just two seasons in the Majors -- totaling 31 starts -- but his first was memorable. The left-hander struck out a record 15 batters for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the crosstown-rival Giants in a mop-up game toward the end of the season. Spooner's highmark of punchouts has been matched just once since by a pitcher in his debut (Richard on Sept. 5, 1971). For context, the Giants, who went on to sweep the Indians in that year's World Series, had already clinched the National League pennant, and had pulled most of their star starters early, including Mays.

Al Jurisich, Cardinals RHP (Apr. 26, 1944 vs. Reds)
Final line: 12 2/3 IP, ER, 8 H, 7 K, 4 BB
Jurisich, making his big league debut at age 22, dueled 35-year-old veteran Bucky Walters in a game that was scoreless into the bottom of the 13th inning at Crosley Field before Frank McCormick ended the game with a walk-off homer. Despite taking the loss, Jurisich's 12 2/3-inning effort is the second-longest by a pitcher making his debut since at least 1908 -- only Pete Henning's debut for the Kansas City Packers against the Chicago Chi-Feds on Apr. 17, 1914, was longer, at 13 innings (3 ER, 12 H, 5 SO, 10 BB).

Bumpus Jones, Reds RHP (Oct. 15, 1892 vs. Pirates)
Final line: 9 IP, 4 BB, 3 K, one unearned run, no hits allowed
After well more than a century of Major League Baseball games, Jones stands alone as the only pitcher to twirl a no-hitter in his debut. Jones was not perfect on this autumn afternoon -- he issued four walks and allowed an unearned run -- but the Pirates were unable to land a hit off the righty nonetheless. Jones' magical debut is all the more unique because the rest of his career was so imperfect; he allowed 37 earned runs on 42 hits and 33 walks over his next seven appearances and was out of the Majors by 1893.

The only other pitchers to throw a no-hitter in their first Major League starts are Ted Breitenstein (1891), Bobo Holloman (1953) and Tyler Gilbert (2021), though each of them made a handful of relief appearances before etching their names into the record books.


Jerar Encarnacion, Marlins OF (June 19, 2022 vs. Mets)
Final line: 1-for-4, HR, 4 RBIs, SB, outfield assist
In the field, at the plate, on the basepaths -- Encarnacion made impact plays all over the diamond during his first game in the Majors. The Marlins' No. 20 prospect threw out a runner at second base in the third inning, launched a grand slam in the seventh for his first MLB hit, and then stole a bag in the ninth. He is the first NL/AL player since at least 1901 to pull off that trifecta in their MLB debut.

Aaron Judge, Yankees OF (Aug. 13, 2016 vs. Rays)
Final line: 2-for-4, HR, RBI
Judge ushered in the new Baby Bombers generation by crushing a 446-foot home run over Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in his very first Major League at-bat. Actually, he went back-to-back with the also-debuting Tyler Austin, who was taking his first at-bat himself. They became the first pair of teammates ever to homer in their first MLB at-bat in the same game. The next season, Judge belted 52 homers in a monster AL Rookie of the Year campaign as he became the face of the Yankees.

Trevor Story, Rockies SS (April 4, 2016 vs. D-backs)
Final line: 2-for-6, 2 HR, 4 RBIs
The Rockies' shortstop homered twice on Opening Day in 2016, spoiling the D-backs debut of Zack Greinke, coming off a '15 season in which he compiled the Majors' lowest ERA (1.66) in 20 years. Story is one of just five players to homer twice in his big league debut -- with J.P. Arencibia (2010), Mark Quinn (1999), Bert Campaneris (1964) and Bob Nieman (1951) -- and is the only to do so while making his big league debut on Opening Day. Story went on to homer seven times in his first six games, which remains a Major League record. Other than Story's seven, the most homers through a player's first career six games is four, done five times.

Joey Gallo, Rangers 3B (June 2, 2015 vs. White Sox)
Final line: 3-for-4, HR, 2B, BB, 4 RBIs
The Rangers slugger flashed his prodigious power in his Major League debut, mashing a homer and a double and finishing a triple shy of the cycle. It took Gallo until 2017 to break out, but back-to-back 40-homer seasons in 2017-18 showed what he could do.

J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays C (Aug. 7, 2010 vs. Rays)
Final line: 4-for-5, 2 HR, 3 RBIs
One of the other five players to homer twice in his big league debut was Arencibia, as part of a 4-for-5 day for the Blue Jays' catcher in their 17-11 win over the Rays on Aug. 7, 2010. Arencibia is the only player in MLB history to collect four hits in his debut while also homering.

Daniel Nava, Red Sox LF (June 12, 2010 vs. Phillies)
Final line: 2-for-4, HR, 4 RBIs
Nava's debut with the Red Sox quickly left a great impression. He hit a grand slam in his first career at-bat in 2010. It would actually be the only home run he hit his rookie year.

Starlin Castro, Cubs SS (May 7, 2010 vs. Reds)
Final line: 2-for-5, 3B, HR, 6 RBIs
Castro set a Major League record for most RBIs in a debut when he drove in six against the Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2010. The 20-year-old shortstop launched a three-run homer off Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey in the second inning to put Chicago ahead, and then hit a bases-clearing triple off reliever Micah Owings in the sixth.

Jason Heyward, Braves OF (April 5, 2010 vs. Cubs)
Final line: 2-for-5, HR, 4 RBIs
Heyward, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, had sky-high expectations coming up with the Braves. In his MLB debut, the dynamic outfielder burst onto the scene by homering in his first at-bat, and he finished 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Coincidentally, Heyward's breakout debut came on Opening Day against his current team, the Cubs.

Kaz Matsui, Mets 2B (April 6, 2004 vs. Braves)
Final line: 3-for-3, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBIs, 2 BB (1 IBB)
Matsui hit a home run in his first plate appearance for three consecutive seasons (2004, 2005, and 2006) and is one of a handful of players to homer in his MLB debut. Against the Braves, he crushed a leadoff home run and followed that up with two doubles and two walks.

Mark Quinn, Royals OF/DH (Sept. 14, 1999 vs. Angels)
Final line: 3-for-4, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBIs
Though his Major League career would only last four seasons, Quinn had a debut to remember, becoming the third player since at least 1908 to homer twice in his first big league game (with Story and Arencibia, there are now five).

Will Clark, Giants 1B (April 8, 1986 vs. Astros)
Final line: 1-for-4, HR, RBI
Talk about starting your career with a bang. The longtime Giants first baseman took Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan deep on his very first swing as a big leaguer. That marked the first of Clark's 2,176 career hits and 284 career home runs and sparked a debut season in which he finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Bert Campaneris, A's SS (July 23, 1964 vs. Twins)
Final line: 3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBIs, BB
Before becoming a six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Campaneris announced his presence on the Major League scene with a two-homer debut against the Twins in Minnesota. Both came off future Hall of Famer Jim Kaat.

Willie McCovey, Giants 1B (July 30, 1959 vs. Phillies)
Final line: 4-for-4, 2 3B, 2 RBIs
McCovey didn't debut until the Giants' 101st game of the year, yet he still went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .354/.429/.656 with 13 homers and 38 RBIs. Not known much for his speed -- he had just 26 stolen bases over his 22-year career -- McCovey legged out two of his career 46 triples in his debut as a 21-year-old, and remains one of just four players to hit that many in his first career game. His immediate impact was a sign of many remarkable things to come over a Hall of Fame career.

Bob Nieman, Browns LF (Sept. 14, 1951 vs. Red Sox)
Final line: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 4 RBIs
The Browns wound up losing to the Red Sox, 9-6, in Nieman's debut, but he drove in four of St. Louis' six runs behind a pair of homers. Both came off Boston starter Mickey McDermott -- a solo shot in the second inning, and a two-run blast in the third.