By HAL McCOY
His first pitch was 100 miles an hour, as was his second pitch and his third pitch.
Hunter Greene gave the fans who risked frostbite and icicle breath exactly what they wanted — triple digit fastballs and strikeouts. In addition, Greene mixed in some surprisingly effective slider and change-ups.
Greene, the No. 1 draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds last June made his Class A Dayton Dragons debut in Fifth Third Field Monday night and didn’t disappoint against the Lake County Captains.
He gave up two runs and five hits over three innings, but of the nine outs he recorded, eight were strikeouts, most coming on breaking pitches after setting hitters up with fastballs.
Greene is the most touted, most publicized and most attention-grabber of any players to put on a Dayton Dragons uniform. And he is the youngest at 18 years-old, a kid who won’t reach 19 until August, when he can pitch without frozen armpits.
Two things were impressive. His fastball comes effortlessly, no extra effort. His delivery is smooth and compact. And his breaking pitches were under control and executed in the strike zone, something he has worked on diligently last winter in the Arizona Instructional League.
He threw 53 pitches Monday, 35 for strikes on a night that would make polar bears shiver, on a night when his father, mother and agent sat through the entire refrigerated ordeal.
Those 100 miles an hour fastballs came in fairly flat in the first inning and Lake County’s first two hits came on first-pitch fastballs in the first inning.
But in the second and third innings, he only threw one 100 miles an hour fastball, dropping down to mostly between 97 and 99 and those pitches were more effective, had better movement.
The two runs came in the top of the first. His most impressive moments came in the third when he had runners on third and second with no outs. Unfazed, he promptly struck out the side.
And he was just as calm and collected after the game, wearing a Bass Pro Shop cap and a silver chain with a huge cross around his neck when he met a media mob.
Greene is from Southern California and when he woke up this morning there was two inches of snow on the ground.
“It wasn’t bad because I had some layers underneath, I had a heat warmer in my back pocket and we had a Rocket flame warmer, whatever you call it, in the dugout,” he said. “It wasn’t bad at all.”
He struck out the first batter he faced, but gave up a two-run double in the first that might make even a more veteran pitcher crack, but the Reds knew what they were doing when they paid $7 million for his signature.
“It happens, but to be able to bounce back and show your maturity and show your competitiveness is what I was trying to do,” he said. “I came back and my team came with some runs.”
The Dragons scored two tie tie it, 2-2, and eventually scored another run late in the game for a 3-2 victory, although Greene took a no-decision.
Then came the second-and-third with nobody out in the third, a true challenge that he pushed through, showing some punch-the-air emotion after the third straight strikeout to end the inning.
“I dug deep, bore down more, pounded the zone,” he said. “I had a little more of a plan the last inning. I looked over the pitching stuff so I’d know how to approach the next couple of hitters.”
Greene realized quickly that Lake County was poised and prepared for his highly-hyped fastball, which he threw 102 miles a hour in high school. So he counter-acted it with a parcel of deadly sliders.
“Everybody was sitting dead red fastball,” he said. “They all bring their ‘A’ game when they come out. To pick the right count to throw my secondary pitches is important. I was able to do in the last inning, make adjustments.”
Even though he pitched a few games late last year for the Billings Mustangs in the Pioneer Rookie League, Greene said it felt more like his professional debut in Fifth Third Field.
“I did have some adrenaline flowing,” he said. “I was able to settle down, look around to see the team around me that was ready to compete behind me. So, I was ready.”
Greene said his objective was not to throw his first Dayton pitch at 100 miles an hour, or the first three, for that matter. But he did.
“No, it wasn’t important,” he said. “It was very effortless, I was looking at the radar gun, I was just out there competing the way I usually do.
“And this game in Dayton mattered a little bit more than my first start at Billings,” he said. “There is more of a fan base, it’s closer to Cincinnati so a lot more people came out from the front office and were watching. This was a step up.”
And it was one step south. It is 50 miles from Fifth Third Field to Great American Ball Park and Monday was an impressive baby step in that direction.
“I still have a lot to work on,” he added. “I need to continue to pound the zone (eight strikeouts and no walks is pounding the zone to oblivion). I need to focus of how to get lefties out because I’m more comfortable against righties. And knowing when in the count to throw my secondary pitches.”