Kyle Hurt could not have scripted a more daunting and exhilarating opening act, the newest Dodgers pitcher mowing down the heart of the San Diego Padres order — Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Manny Machado — on a fly out and two ground outs in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 11-2 victory.
For an encore, the 25-year-old right-hander struck out the side in the top of the ninth, Garrett Cooper swinging at an 86-mph changeup, Trent Grisham swinging through a 96-mph fastball and Matthew Batten swinging at an 87-mph changeup.
All that was left for the former Torrey Pines High School and USC standout to cap off his memorable big-league debut was … to meet his manager?
“The first time I saw him today,” Dodgers field boss Dave Roberts said, “was shaking hands at the end of the game.”
Yes, it was a “pretty, pretty crazy 24 hours,” as Hurt said in the clubhouse afterward, still beaming as he met local reporters for the first time.
Hurt, rated the 12th-best prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline, was in Oklahoma City late Monday night when he got a call from triple-A manager Travis Barbary after a 5-4 win over Tulsa that he was being called up.
After a mostly sleepless night — ”I stayed up for a while thinking about it,” he said — Hurt caught a Tuesday flight to Los Angeles, landed at LAX in the late-afternoon and battled traffic to Dodger Stadium, arriving at 6:45 p.m., about 25 minutes before first pitch.
Hurt, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins before the 2021 season, dressed and headed to the left-field bullpen without meeting Roberts or most of the team’s position players, who were on the field warming up.
Toward the end of Lance Lynn’s seven-inning, two-run, five-hit, 111-pitch start, a much-needed bounce-back after the veteran right-hander was torched for 15 earned runs and 14 hits–six of them homers–in nine innings of his previous two starts, Hurt was told he would be pitching the eighth.
While Padres veteran Rich Hill, a 43-year-old left-hander who has thrown 1,402 innings over 19 big-league seasons, completed the bottom of the seventh, Hurt prepared to face three sluggers who have 10 All-Star game appearances and six Silver Slugger awards between them and have combined for 81 homers this season.
As he jogged toward the mound in a 9-2 game, the words of his fellow relievers echoed through his head.
“Every single guy in the bullpen that talked to me during the game, they just said, ‘Be yourself, be yourself, don’t change a thing,’ ” the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Hurt said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
Mixing a lively four-seam fastball that averaged 96.6 mph and topped out at 97.9 mph with an 87-mph changeup, Hurt needed only 24 pitches, 19 of them strikes, to retire six straight batters.
“Man, that was exciting,” Roberts said. “The way he performed was really special. The life on the fastball, the changeup … and he just didn’t run from the moment. It’s a lane of hitters that he’ll remember forever. It doesn’t get any better or tougher than that.”
It didn’t hurt that Hurt had some margin for error, the Dodgers building a huge lead behind Freddie Freeman, who celebrated his 34th birthday with four hits, including a two-run homer and his major league-leading 55th double, and four runs, and Will Smith, who doubled in the first inning and cranked a three-run homer to center in the fourth.
But that didn’t detract from Hurt’s performance before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 42,194, which included his parents, girlfriend, agent and several high school buddies.
“The first time we all saw him, I think, was when he came into the game,” Freeman said. “To go through that first inning with Fernando, Juan and Manny … you could just see from the side angle that his fastball was coming out hot, it looked like a different kind of heater, and he played that changeup off of it.
“I’ve heard about our pitchers in the minor leagues, and they’re coming up now, and they look amazing. And then to have a big-league debut like that is special. It’s something he and his family are always going to have.”
Hurt opened 2023 at Tulsa as part of a vaunted double-A pitching staff that included Emmet Sheehan, Landon Knack, Nick Frasso, River Ryan and Nick Nastrini, and he was promoted to triple-A in early August.
He had the highest strikeout rate in minor league baseball this season, going 4-4 with a 3.87 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 41 walks in 88 ⅓ innings over 25 games–16 of them starts–at Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Hurt’s first major league stint could be brief. Roberts said before Tuesday night’s game that Hurt was here to provide short-term coverage for an overworked bullpen and not necessarily to audition for a playoff roster spot on a team whose rotation has been ravaged by season-ending elbow injuries to Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, Clayton Kershaw’s velocity-sapping shoulder injury, Walker Buehler’s aborted comeback from Tommy John surgery and Julio Urías’ recent arrest for domestic violence.
The Dodgers will need a roster spot for Joe Kelly, who is expected to be activated for Wednesday night’s series finale against the Padres after missing a month because of an elbow injury, so it’s very possible Hurt could be headed back to triple-A.
But after Tuesday night’s performance, could the Dodgers alter their original plan and keep a Hurt locker in their clubhouse for a little longer?
“He did what he could do, what we hoped he could do, and we’re going to sit back and figure out what we’re gonna do,” Roberts said. “We have Joe Kelly coming back, so there is a decision that needs to be made. But it was good to see Kyle throw so well.”