Hunter Greene and the No-Hitter That Wasn’t

Hunter Greene
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was weird, it was wild, it was perhaps a bit irresponsible, and it was certainly bittersweet. On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Reds rookie Hunter Greene was dominant, setting a career high for strikeouts and combining with reliever Art Warren to hold the Pirates hitless for the entire afternoon. Yet when it was all said and done, Cincinnati — which had won six out of its last nine after starting the season 3–22 — found a new way to lose, 1–0. Greene and Warren didn’t even get credit for an official no-hitter, combined or otherwise.

The game’s only run scored in the bottom of the eighth inning. After Greene issued a pair of one-out walks to Rodolfo Castro and Michael Perez to push his pitch count to 118 — oh, we’ll get to that — manager David Bell pulled him in favor of Warren, who walked Ben Gamel, then induced a chopper by Ke’Bryan Hayes. Second baseman Alejo Lopez briefly bobbled the ball, and while he still threw to shortstop Matt Reynolds in time to force Gamel, Reynolds’ throw to first base was too late to complete the double play.

The Reds themselves managed just four hits against starter José Quintana and relievers Chris Stratton and David Bednar, the last of whom set down the side 1-2-3 in the ninth. Thus they joined a short and dubious list, becoming just the fifth team to hold their opponents hitless for eight innings but lose because they were nonetheless outscored. Such efforts used to be considered no-hitters, but in 1991, MLB’s Committee for Statistical Accuracy tightened the official definition of the feat, ruling that those falling short of nine innings would not receive such a designation. That put the Reds in this company:

Eight No-Hit Innings But Lost
Pitcher(s) Team Opponent Date Score
Silver King Chicago (PL) Brooklyn (PL) 6/21/1890 0-1
Andy Hawkins Yankees White Sox 7/1/1990 0-4
Matt Young Red Sox Cleveland 4/12/1992 1-2
Jered Weaver (6), Jose Arredondo (2) Angels Dodgers 6/28/2008 0-1
Hunter Greene (7.1), Art Warren (0.2) Reds Pirates 5/15/2022 0-1
PL = Players League

The most infamous of such games is that of Hawkins, who allowed four eighth-inning runs via a combination of three errors and two walks, all with two outs; he did walk five overall, so his outing was kind of a mess to begin with. Greene and Warren combined to walk six, but they were the only one of the five teams above to lose after eight hitless innings without being charged with an error as well. Congrats on discovering that new way to lose, I guess.

(Note that twice in baseball history, a team has thrown nine no-hit innings but allowed at least a run and lost. Ken Johnson did so with the Houston Colt .45s against the Reds on April 23, 1964, but wound up on the short end of a 1–0 score. The Orioles’ Steve Barber and Stu Miller did so against the Tigers on April 30, 1967, losing 2–1. Both of those games count as official no-hitters due to their length.)

Loss or no, this did qualify as a significant step forward for Greene. The 22-year-old righty entered the season at no. 31 on our Top 100 Prospects list and had dazzled at times, throwing 62 pitches of at least 100 mph this season and topping out at 102. Nonetheless, he had taken his lumps in his first six starts against an imposing slate that included the Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies (at Coors Field), and Brewers (twice). All of those teams except the defending champions are .500 or better, and none of them made it easy for the rookie, who went 1–5 with a 7.62 ERA, a 7.78 FIP, and a major league-high 11 homers allowed in 26 innings. None of Greene’s first six starts had lasted longer than 5.1 frames, and only in his last one, against the Brewers on Tuesday, did he even reach 100 pitches.

Mixing in just two changeups along with 65 sliders and 51 four-seamers on Sunday, Greene struck out nine Pirates, surpassing his previous high of seven, set first against the Braves in his April 10 debut, and then matched in his otherwise forgettable May 5 pummeling by the Brewers. The heater averaged 98.9 mph, 0.6 above his season average, but topped out at “only” 100.8. He got just four swings and misses on the pitch, but only once did a Pirate hit a fastball hard; in the third inning, Perez mashed a 101.8-mph liner to center field, where Albert Almora Jr. made a routine play.

Greene’s slider averaged 88.1 mph (1.1 mph above his season average) and was the key to his afternoon, as he got a career high 11 swings and misses with the pitch, plus 13 called strikes, for a 37% CSW%. In a lineup that featured just one righty (Hayes) as well as six lefties and two switch-hitters, Greene was especially adept at going down and in with the slider, leaving Pittsburgh’s hitters helpless. His slider was the putaway pitch for seven of his strikeouts, including his only K looking, on the outside corner of the zone against Josh VanMeter in the seventh.

Greene’s first inning was a grind, as he fired 23 pitches, the most he needed in a single frame. He went to a full count against the first three hitters, striking out both Gamel (swinging at a high 99.1 mph fastball) and Hayes (chasing a low-and-away slider) before walking Bryan Reynolds. By comparison, he needed just 23 pitches in the second and third innings combined, retiring the sides in order capped by two-out strikeouts of Jack Suwinski and Gamel, both chasing low, inside sliders. As with the fastball, the Pirates managed just one hard-hit ball on a slider, a 103.5-mph grounder by Hayes in the sixth — but right to Reynolds at shortstop.

Having gone to three-ball counts to five of the first seven hitters, Greene did so just three times over his next 18. After striking out Reynolds for the second out in the fourth via a slider at the bottom of the zone, he walked Daniel Vogelbach but escaped; he threw 21 pitches in that frame, the only other time besides the first inning that he needed more than 15. He struck out both Suwinski and Castro chasing low, inside sliders in a clean, 11-pitch fifth, worked around a leadoff walk of Perez in the sixth, and bookended his 10-pitch seventh inning with strikeouts of Vogelbach (98.6 mph fastball via a foul tip) and VanMeter. Those were sandwiched around the defensive highlight of the game: a running catch by Almora, who nabbed a short Yoshi Tsutsugo fly ball and barely avoided a full collision with left fielder Tommy Pham. As it was, the center fielder stumbled after stepping on one of Pham’s feet.

Through seven innings, Greene had walked three without allowing a hit, but he had already reached 103 pitches; logic dictated that he was not going to complete the game without pushing past 120. Still, Bell sent him out for the eighth. Greene got a first-pitch groundout of Suwinski but then went to full counts against both Castro and Perez, losing both battles and leaving Bell no choice.

Greene’s 118 pitches were the highest of any pitcher this season, surpassing Kyle Hendricks‘ 116 from last Monday against the Padres, when he came within one out of a complete-game shutout. Hendricks is a 32-year-old veteran, however, and thanks to a whole lot of Tommy John surgeries on young arms, major league managers as a group have steered away from pushing 22-year-old pitchers so hard. Since the start of the 2012 season, just three times has a pitcher 22 or younger gone at least 118 pitches, the last of those almost exactly four years ago:

Highest Pitch Counts by Starters 22 or Younger Since 2012
Player Age Date Tm Opp IP H R BB SO Pit
Julio Teheran 22-113 5/20/13 ATL MIN 8.1 5 1 1 4 123
Jack Flaherty 22-217 5/20/18 STL PHI 7.2 2 1 1 13 120
Jordan Lyles 21-272 7/17/12 HOU SDP 6 11 5 2 3 118
Hunter Greene 22-282 5/15/22 CIN PIT 7.1 0 0 5 9 118
Lance McCullers Jr. 22-294 7/22/16 HOU LAA 8 4 1 4 10 117
Jordan Lyles 21-214 5/20/12 HOU TEX 5 9 6 3 6 117
Madison Bumgarner 22-272 4/29/12 SFG SDP 7.2 6 1 1 6 117
Madison Bumgarner 22-255 4/12/12 SFG COL 7.1 4 1 2 2 117
Carlos Rodón 22-255 8/22/15 CHW SEA 7 6 3 4 8 116
Noah Syndergaard 22-315 7/10/15 NYM ARI 8 4 1 2 13 116
Carlos Rodón 22-181 6/9/15 CHW HOU 6 4 0 2 5 116
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

You’ll recognize McCullers, Rodón, and Syndergaard as future recipients of Tommy John surgeries from that list, though all of them were at least a couple of years away going under the knife, and it’s a mistake to blame a single high-pitch outing for their subsequent UCL injuries. But Greene has already had one TJ surgery, in 2019, and he throws at a higher velocity than any of them, which increases his risk level. Nothing was really at stake on Sunday, even with his hitless effort, and Bell not only had an easy rationale to pull his starter, but also a sound strategic one: sending out a reliever to start the eighth inning with a clean slate in pursuit of the season’s second combined no-hitter and third one overall. Then again, the Reds’ bullpen owns the majors’ highest FIP (4.44) and second-highest ERA (4.93), and Warren’s marks were even higher. Said the manager afterward:

“He actually made it pretty easy. I’m obviously aware of the fact he hadn’t given up a hit. For me, it was easy to send him back out for the eighth because of how he got there, because of how he was pitching. He hadn’t had to work extremely hard. He was in control… just great rhythm.

“Looking at it now, I think it would have had to have gone really easy for him to go back out for the ninth. There was a chance he could’ve done it.”

Via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith:

“He pitched, he’d get behind the count, throw a slider and get back into the count. He had a great fastball but he also had a special slider. He pitched. He pitched his way into having an opportunity to go nine innings, get a win and a no-hitter. In my book, that’s what it was today.”

Greene, who showed a poise well beyond his years throughout his outing, admitted he was tired by the end, “But then again, there’s the mental part of, you know, ‘I’m fine. I’m not tired,'” he said.

The rookie was able to put his effort and the game’s result in perspective, saying, “I am not focused on wins and losses this year… [The loss] is what it is. But I felt really good about where all of my pitches were. I’m very confident in myself.”

While Greene was in uncharted territory as far as his short major league career goes, I’ve noted previously in this space that bids for no-hitters haven’t exactly been a rare commodity this year. Major league hitters are batting just .234/.307/.376; that batting average is the lowest for any major league season, 10 points lower than last year and three points lower than in 1968, “The Year of the Pitcher,” when the full-season low was set. So far, 28 teams (sometimes using more than one pitcher) have no-hit the opposition for at least five innings, and now I have to add more asterisks to my tracking table, because if the Reds’ game doesn’t count as an official no-hitter, it certainly does as a near no-hitter… albeit one that wasn’t broken up:

No-Hit Bids as a Percentage of Games Since 2015
Year Games NH Broken 6 Broken 7 Broken 8 Broken 9 Broken 6+ % Near NH % Near + NH
2015 4858 7 42 22 12 5 81 1.67% 1.81%
2016 4856 1 40 23 9 4 76 1.57% 1.59%
2017 4860 1 43 13 4 6* 66 1.36% 1.38%
2018 4862 3 45 30 10 3 88 1.81% 1.87%
2019 4858 4 48 17 4 4 73 1.50% 1.59%
2020 1576 2 28 7 1 1 37 2.35% 2.47%
2021 4622 9 30 24 14 2 70 1.51% 1.71%
2022 1036 2 18 3 3 1** 25 2.51%*** 2.70%***
Total 31528 29 294 139 57 26 516 1.64%** 1.73%**
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference + NoNoHitters + Kernels of Wisdom
Does not include seven-inning doubleheader games.
* = includes one no-hit bid broken up in 10th inning (Rich Hill, 10/24/17). Totals for 2020 and ’21 exclude seven-inning doubleheader games.
** = includes one no-hit bid broken up in 10th inning (7 Rays pitchers, 4/23/22)
*** = includes one eight-inning hitless game that does not officially count as a no-hitter or as a broken-up no-hit bid. (Reds, 5/15/22)

When I checked in on April 22, the rate of near and actual no-hitters was at 2.6%, so it’s actually increased in the three weeks since then. Pitchers (and their teams) are taking no-hitters into the sixth once for every 37 starts thus far this season, compared to once for every 58.5 starts last year and once for every 60.4 starts for the seasons since 2015 that did not have truncated spring trainings. They’ve become 63% more common relative to that “normal season” baseline.

That, and the loss, and even the quality of a Pittsburgh lineup that began the day with four hitters with batting averages below .200, shouldn’t obscure Greene’s exceptional performance. We’ll cross our fingers that his inflated pitch count won’t have longer-term ramifications and hope that Sunday’s no-hit effort heralds more brilliant outings to come.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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1 month ago

This game was straight out of the dead ball era. Although I have mixed feelings about the current state of the offense in the game, this was pretty cool to see imo.

Last edited 1 month ago by BennyandTheMets
1 month ago

I’m still waiting for a no-hitter loss thanks to the ghost runner rule. That is the level of bizarreness I need in 2022.

1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It could even be a perfect game loss, if the ghost runner scored after, eg, a ground out and then a sac fly.

1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

What about the perfect game that is lost to the zombie runner? Especially if it goes ground out, sac fly, strike out- so 10 perfect innings.

(I’m imagining if that ever happens, there will be a rule change the next day saying no zombie runner if one or both teams are perfect)

Last edited 1 month ago by Phil
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Roger21 and Phil: Does a sac fly spoil a perfect game? What about a passed ball? I think you’re right about this but I’m not certain.

CC AFCmember
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Mlb defines a perfect game as: “An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.”

So a passed ball must spoil a perfect game due to the runner reaching base. I don’t think a sac fly could ruin a perfect game since the runner hasn’t reached base assuming the zombie runner doesn’t count as having reached base himself.

1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The zombie runner straight away stops it being perfect. (I didn’t phrase it well – I meant to say the perfect game is over as soon as there is the runner on 2nd – and then the team could lose in what would be 10 perfect innings due to the zombie runner scoring with no other base runners allowed)

formerly matt w
1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

I dunno, the definition CC AFC quoted says “In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.” But the zombie runner isn’t a batter!

A perfect game can have an error I believe–dropped foul pop error that doesn’t cause the runner to reach base. Which isn’t relevant to this discussion but there it is.

Speaking of reaching on strikeouts and being irrelevant to this post, in yesterday’s Somerset Patriots-Altoona Curve AA game, Derek Dietrich had consecutive at-bats where he reached on strikeout-wild pitches. That can’t happen often!

1 month ago

FWIW, if this debate happened in the actual news media and not in the FG comments section I would be delighted. Anything to highlight absurdity in our absurd world.

1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Can’t be a perfect game if any runner reaches base by any means. But I’m assuming the ghost runner doesn’t count as “reaching base.”

Presumably, if the pitcher allows no other hits, errors, etc, it would be a perfect game, but I think the rule officially notes that they also can’t allow a run.

1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I don’t think anybody really knows and the answers given here are conjecture. Before the zombie runner it wasn’t possible to have a sac fly, sac bunt, fielder’s choice, passed ball, or wild pitch in a perfect game because all of those plays require a baserunner. I’m probably missing a couple other things that couldn’t happen as well, like maybe a balk.

1 month ago
Reply to  MikeS

Wild pitch/passed ball could happen on a dropped strike three.

1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

Then it’s no longer a perfect game.

1 month ago
Reply to  MikeS

Yup – I was being an idiot and misreading/misunderstanding your point.

1 month ago
Reply to  Phil

From MLB re: Automatic Runner: “As part of MLB’s health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, all half-innings after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base in the 2020 regular season. This rule will not be in place for the 2020 postseason or the 2021 campaign.

The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning in extras will be the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter, or a pinch-runner. So, if the No. 7 hitter in the order is due to lead off, the No. 6 hitter (or a pinch-runner for the No. 6 hitter) would be placed on second base.

If the automatic runner comes around to score, an earned run will not be charged to the pitcher.”

The automatic runner is not a batter – “batter” is not even used in the description. Also, the rule says the runner will be “placed on second base,” so therefore does not “reach” base. I believe it would have to still be counted as a perfect game, even if it resulted in a loss due to right side groundout-sac fly.