CHICAGO — There may come a time when young Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene will be able to go the distance and complete his own no-hitter. Friday was not that day, but his flirtation with it happened again.
For the second time in his big league career, Greene kept an opponent hitless as he pitched six innings and tied a career high with 11 strikeouts during Cincinnati’s 9-0 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“It’d be great to go the distance. It’s tough when you strike a lot of guys out. It racks up the pitch count,” said Greene, who threw 110 pitches. “I’d love to go nine innings with no hits. That’s not the normal. I’m focused on the now.”
The 23-year-old Greene, who also notched his first win of 2023, allowed two walks for his only baserunners on the day. The Cubs put the ball in the air just three times and lifted the ball out of the infield twice — those were his final two batters in the game.
Greene’s fastball was at its best this afternoon. He threw it 67 times and it averaged 98.3 mph while topping at 100.5 mph. It was his pitch for eight of his strikeouts.
“He had a different gear today,” catcher Curt Casali said. “It seemed like every time I looked up, it was either 99 or 100. It was hard to catch up to. When he’s in the zone with it, on top of the zone with it, it’s even better.”
The Cubs had 28 foul balls included among 67 strikes to prevent any chance of Greene finishing the game.
“It’s great to get 0-2, two foul balls, can I try to finish this guy on the third pitch? That’s what I’m working toward,” Greene said. “Trying to cut down the pitches.”
Greene’s only inning without a strikeout was the sixth, when Tucker Barnhart grounded out and Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson each flied out.
“His most efficient inning was the sixth. Which was great. To be able to get him through six and you don’t give up any runs, it’s a good start,” Reds manager David Bell said.
It was Greene’s first time working with Casali this season, too.
“We got really familiar in Spring Training together throwing bullpens,” said Greene, who is 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in 11 starts. “I also worked with him in the offseason a few times too. That’s where our relationship began. … He does a great job. He has experience. A lot of positive reinforcement with him. That helps a lot, especially when a guy is still trying to figure the league out early on.”
Rookie reliever Eduardo Salazar kept a combined no-hitter alive with three groundouts in the seventh inning but gave up his first of two hits on Christopher Morel’s leadoff line-drive single to center field in the bottom of the eighth.
“At the end of the day, a no-hitter would’ve been great,” Casali said. “Shutouts are awesome. I really take a lot of pride in those. It helps me sleep at night, for sure.”
On May 15, 2022, at Pittsburgh, Greene threw 7 1/3 hitless innings but allowed five walks. Art Warren notched the other two outs, but not before the Pirates scored a run in a 1-0 loss in eight innings, falling short of an official no-hitter.
Greene, who signed a six-year, $53 million contract in April, has endured an inconsistent second big league season.
“I’m early on in my career. I’m giving myself a chance,” Greene said. “People got to understand through the early stages that there will be growing pains. I’m trying to figure stuff out. We have a young group of players who will be figuring things out. We’re working hard every day, putting pieces together and it’ll pay off really soon.”
The youthful Reds lineup played a big role in supporting Greene, offensively.
Spencer Steer hit an RBI triple off Justin Steele in the first inning and scored on Tyler Stephenson’s RBI single to give Cincinnati a 2-0 lead. Steer finished with three hits and was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle.
Stephenson also had three hits and added an RBI single in the fourth inning to give Cincinnati a 6-0 lead. Matt McLain, who debuted in the big leagues on May 15, added his own three-hit effort to extend his hitting streak to five games.
The big lead enabled Greene to stay on the attack in the strike zone.
“It just looked like he had a lot of intent on his pitches today. He wasn’t going to be bullied today,” Casali said. “Just dare them to hit it. I think it was a positive step for him, for sure.”