May 23, 2024

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 flyout and two groundouts 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 his memorable big-league debut was … to meet his manager?

“The first time I saw him today,” 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, 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 after a 5-4 win over Tulsa when he got a call from triple-A manager Travis Barbary 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, 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 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 appearances and six Silver Slugger awards among 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 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.

That set the stage for 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 the season 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 Hurt was promoted to triple A in early August.

He had the highest strikeout rate in minor league baseball, going 4-4 with a 3.87 ERA, 145 strikeouts and 41 walks in 88⅓ innings over 25 games — 16 of them starts — at Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Hurt’s first major league stint was brief. The Dodgers needed a roster spot for reliever Joe Kelly, who was activated off the injured list for Wednesday night’s series finale against the Padres, and Hurt was optioned back to triple A despite his brilliant debut.

Hurt’s feelings were not hurt.

“It’s obviously not the greatest thing for myself, but it’s not a disappointment,” Hurt said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not going to be pouting. All these guys are very good baseball players, and I’m just happy that I got a chance to be in the same locker room and on the same field with all of them. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

As well as Hurt pitched Tuesday night, his fate probably was sealed before he took the Dodger Stadium mound.

“I think it was a surprise to him and the organization that he got the call [Tuesday] night, but he delivered,” Roberts said. “Where we’re at with the roster, Joe was going to come back. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Kyle — he could come back.

“But my encouragement to him was, he filled the zone, he had swing-and-miss, he had a great experience. Continue to do that, and you never know what could happen.”

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