When a 6-foot-5, 230-pound rookie makes his Major League debut throwing 101 miles per hour, “subtle” isn’t high on the list of adjectives you expect to use. But the subtleties in Hunter Greene’s first big league start on Sunday were as encouraging as anything else you might want to point out.
And there was a lot that was encouraging, as Greene struck out seven Braves batters over five innings en route to his first big league win. He allowed three runs in a 6-3 victory, flashing the dazzling stuff he’s always been known for -- but also more command than he’s usually gotten credit for.
Over the first two innings of 0-0 ball, Greene -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 22 prospect -- wasn’t nibbling by any means, but he was showing respect to a very good lineup. An appropriate amount of respect, even for somebody who hits triple digits and has a wipeout slider. But he was mostly around the edges of the strike zone.
Then he got some runs, and frankly, he also got a little tired. So whether because he reacted to the lead or because he just didn’t have quite the same amount of fuel in the tank, Greene made it work without dotting the corners.
“This is the most pitches  I’ve thrown this year,” he said. “Got a little tired toward the end as expected. Ball started to leak a little bit over the plate. That wasn’t the focus. That’s not what I was trying to do. I was aware of that, but you’ve still got to go out and just throw it.”
To be clear, it’s not as though Greene went into “here it is, hit it” mode. But he was undoubtedly over the plate more in the last three innings than in the first two. A couple of solo home runs reminded him that you don’t want to get too far over the plate, but pitching with a 5-0 lead isn’t the same as pitching in a 0-0 game. He handled both tasks very well.
“Sometimes as a pitcher, you see where you get a big lead and all of a sudden you do start changing,” said Reds manager David Bell. “You still have to stay aggressive, so it’s such a fine line. And that’s what I think he did a good job [of]. He was aware of the score, he was pitching to the score in the back of his mind, but he continued to trust his plan.”
Young pitchers can sometimes err in either direction, but the key is to have both. You don’t want a pitcher who throws everything over the heart of the plate. You also don’t want a pitcher unwilling to attack. When you find a rookie who can do both, you’ve got something.
There were other subtle touches that showed that Greene is more than just the numbers on the radar gun. In a second-inning strikeout of Adam Duvall, he located absolutely perfectly. First-pitch slider, right on the outside corner. 0-1 slider, just off the plate. 0-2 slider, a little farther off the plate. Duvall chased all three, and he was quickly gone.
Greene’s fastball was as advertised, consistently sitting around 99 mph and reaching as high as 101.6 miles per hour. But even then, for the most part he located it. He controlled it, throwing 56 strikes out of 92 pitches, but he also commanded it. That started to fade a bit as he got tired, but many of his outs came on beautifully located fastballs -- often either right at the top of the zone or just barely above it.
"Yes, he throws super hard,” said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. “But if you've got fastball command, you can get anybody out consistently. That's what he did. The only balls that got hit hard were fastballs that were more center cut."
There will be rough spots for Greene, maybe as soon as his next start. But he showed Sunday that he has more tools than he’s sometimes been credited with. And it will be fun to see him deploy them.