Not since the days when Aroldis Chapman was around had the Reds debuted a pitcher firing triple-digit fastballs so effortlessly.
“I know it’s not in the Major Leagues necessarily, but it is kind of for him. It’s a 'Welcome to the Major Leagues' moment. The first guys he faced are big league hitters,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said.
In the first inning Tuesday, Greene’s first three pitches to leadoff batter David Fletcher registered at 101, 102 and 103 mph, respectively, on the radar gun.
“His fastball is elite,” Barnhart underscored. “If you look in the baseball dictionary, and ‘easy cheese’ was in there, it would be like a picture or video of him. It’s incredible how hard he throws.”
A 21-year-old ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No. 2 prospect, Greene reached his 30-pitch limit before he could complete the full inning. He allowed three earned runs, three hits and one walk with one strikeout.
“Obviously expectations are always high,” Greene said. “It's my first game out. Obviously having a short-term memory is huge in this game. Just being able to build off of today, I think that's my biggest takeaway.”
Greene’s fourth pitch of the game was also clocked at 103 mph, but it was hit by Fletcher for a soft single into right field. Following Barnhart’s passed ball, Greene threw a breaking ball that hit Jon Jay’s back foot.
A breaking ball to José Iglesias was launched for a three-run home run to left-center field. Jared Walsh followed with a walk, which brought pitching coach Derek Johnson out for a mound visit that concluded with Greene cracking a smile.
After a strikeout and another single, Taylor Ward grounded toward first base. Joey Votto made an on-target toss to Greene covering the bag, but he dropped the ball before recovering to throw Walsh out at the plate.
“I'm just glad that I played short, that I was somewhat of an athlete coming up,” Greene said. “That really saved me. It's crazy because I've done that drill -- the 3-1 play -- so many times in all these PFP drills and I've never dropped the ball.”
Under the new Cactus League rules in place, the Reds requested that the inning be stopped, and Greene’s night was complete.
“It definitely looked like he belonged out there,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I think no matter what the result was, it was going to be a good experience for Hunter Greene to pitch in that game.”
The No. 2 overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft, Greene last pitched in a game on July 26, 2018, for Class A Dayton. He suffered a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and after efforts to rehab the injury didn’t work, the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2019.
“It's been a while since I've been in a game environment, so getting back out there was just kind of crazy,” Greene said. “But going in -- I've been doing this since I was 6, 7 years old. At the end of the day, I focus back on that and knowing that it's just another game of baseball. A lot of excitement leading into it and getting back out there and competing.
“To have Tucker back there and be able to trust someone with his experience and just the career he's had, that made it a lot easier and it was nice to have the guys out there and everybody was great and, yeah ... so first day in the books.”
Barnhart has been paired with Greene this spring during his side bullpen sessions. During the first one, the club had its equipment out to register all of the pitch data. The veteran catcher didn’t need Rapsodo or the radar gun to tell him that the pitches had some heat.
“It’s like since Chappy that I’ve had a guy that I’m thinking, ‘Holy crap, he’s throwing hard,’” Barnhart said. “Every fastball he threw was either 100 or 101. And I was glad that that was the case, because it felt really hard, and I was really hopeful that it wasn’t 89, because then I probably would have packed up and went home.”
Greene isn’t as in awe with his own velocity, however.
“For me, I'm focusing on so much more than that,” he said. “There's a lot to work on other than velocity. A lot of guys are like, 'I wish I threw that hard.' But for me, I'm trying to work on some other things: my secondary pitches, more pitch philosophy and understanding who I am as a pitcher and how I get guys out the best.”