Welcome return to Majors for Harrell

July 2nd, 2016

ATLANTA -- At about 11 a.m. on Friday, as the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves prepared for their game against the Louisville Bats, Lucas Harrell learned he wouldn't be toeing the rubber for the Minor League contest.

Instead, for the first time in more than two years, the right-hander would make a start in a big league game, taking the mound for the Braves on Saturday against the Marlins.

"It was like my first time when I got called up in 2010 with the White Sox," Harrell said after Saturday's 9-1 win over the Marlins at Turner Field. "You get that excited feeling in your stomach, and you're out there just trying to make good pitches and get ground balls and have quick outs.

"It was a great feeling."

Harrell's elation was also compounded by his great performance. The 31-year-old tossed six innings, giving up one run on three hits to outduel Jose Fernandez and earn his first Major League win since Aug. 14, 2013, while pitching for the Astros.

Harrell's first career victory in the Majors came three years before that as a member of the White Sox. His catcher for that game was none other than A.J. Pierzynski, who once again found himself behind the plate catching the right-hander on Saturday.

"I think he was a little bit better," Pierzynski said. "He's obviously older and wiser now. His breaking ball is a little bit better than I remember it being, but he threw the ball well. He kept the ball down, and he executed the game plan we talked about before the game."

But Harrell's journey from his first Major League win to his most recent one hasn't come without its hurdles.

Once regarded as one of the top prospects in Chicago's organization, the former fourth-round Draft pick hadn't pitched in the Majors since April 15, 2014, entering Saturday's contest. Since then, Harrell had bounced around the Minors and also played in the Korea Baseball Organization before signing a Minor League deal with Atlanta on May 20.

In nine games (five starts) with Gwinnett, Harrell posted a 2-1 record with a 2.81 ERA across 32 innings. With the Braves' starting rotation depleted due to injuries, regression and the recent Bud Norris trade, they turned to Harrell for support.

And he delivered.

"It's been a long road to get back here, and I've felt like I've worked real hard," Harrell said. "I've been up here and had a little bit of success before, so it was just nice."

With Williams Perez and John Gant on the disabled list and Aaron Blair attempting to regain his form in Triple-A, Harrell's impressive outing has also earned him another start, as he'll face the Cubs on Thursday at Wrigley Field.

"Everybody I talked to … was like, 'This guy's a big league pitcher,'" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's had to fight his way back it looked like and through some things.

"It won't be the most outlandish story of all time if a guy comes back, reinvents himself and is hopefully a big part of what we're going to do."