A new record: 24 straight strikes to start the game!

August 25th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Virtually all the scouting reports, commentary from coaches and even a self-reflective description from George Kirby entering his rookie season centered on one theme: He throws a lot of strikes.

Yet Kirby took that skill to another level on Wednesday afternoon against the Nationals, thrusting himself into the MLB record books by beginning the matinee at T-Mobile Park with 24 straight strikes.

According to STATS, Kirby set a new high-water mark to begin a game dating back to 1988, when pitch tracking first began. The previous record was 21, achieved by the Pirates' Joe Musgrove on Aug. 30, 2018. Before that, only the Braves' Ervin Santana had reached 20, doing so on April 9, 2014.

Kirby said he was cognizant of the run he was on, but he didn’t realize the historical context until after an eventual 3-1 loss.

Of Kirby’s 24 strikes, only one was out of the zone -- a low-and-away changeup to CJ Abrams -- but it kept the streak going since Abrams swung and hit an infield single. Pitches that result in hits or outs, regardless of where they are located, are considered strikes. Only balls called as such by the home-plate umpire are balls, and Kirby’s first was via a four-seam fastball to Joey Meneses with one out in the third inning, which elicited a collective sigh of disappointment from the ticketed crowd of 21,035 at T-Mobile Park.

“The command and what he's done, forget the rookie tag on him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You can put the command and controlling the strike zone up with anybody in our league.”

Kirby began the day with a three-pitch strikeout of César Hernández, then surrendered three straight singles, capped by one at 110.6 mph from former Mariner Nelson Cruz that represented the lone run Kirby surrendered. He went on to rack up a career-high-tying nine strikeouts while completing seven innings for only the second time.

He needed just 85 pitches (69 strikes) to get there, which is what made Wednesday’s showing even more impressive -- Kirby is combatting a well-chronicled workload management situation by simply being as efficient as possible, aided by a knack for filling up the zone. He will continue to be monitored closely, especially given how valuable of a rotation piece he’s showing that he could be in the postseason.

Kirby worked into a three-ball count just twice and issued zero walks. He worked into a 1-1 count five times and reached strike two on each. 

“It just sets you up for the whole at-bat,” Kirby said. “I mean, if you get strike one, the hitter has got to protect five pitches now. Just attack. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I really try and just hammer the corners, just really quality strikes, that’s kind of what I’ve been focused on. Sometimes, you throw one down the middle.”

For a team whose pitching culture is defined by the phrase “Dominate The Zone,” Kirby has been the perfect match. 

“I was like, ‘I’m the guy for it,’” Kirby said. “They’ve been preaching it since Day 1, and it’s something that I’ve really held true to myself. I just go out there and attack. You can’t do too bad just throwing strikes. That’s the name of the game now.”

Kirby has now allowed no more than three earned runs and one walk in 15 of his 18 starts this year, tying him with Toronto’s Kevin Gausman and Kansas City’s Zack Greinke for the most such outings in the AL. He has 102 strikeouts against 13 walks and has lowered his ERA to 3.32, the AL’s lowest among rookies who have pitched at least 90 innings.

Over his past eight starts, Kirby has a 2.41 ERA and Seattle is 6-2. The club probably could have advanced to 7-1 on Wednesday with more run support beyond a game-tying solo homer from Julio Rodríguez in the eighth, his 20th of the season, which made him just the sixth Mariners player with a 20-20 season.

But in the ninth, Paul Sewald walked his first batter and then gave up a decisive two-run homer in a 1-2 count with two outs to Ildemaro Vargas that pushed the Nationals ahead for good. It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise stellar day from Seattle’s two touted rookies.

Even so, with each passing start, Kirby continues to put the Mariners in position to win -- which will be a vital attribute as each game becomes more and more important.