Matt Harrison joins 10-win club
August, 8, 2011
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Never before have the Texas Rangers fielded five starters with double-figure wins. Lefty Matt Harrison became the fifth Monday night -- barely more than a week into August -- allowing a pair of runs on five hits in seven innings in the 9-2 shellacking of the Seattle Mariners.
Harrison, who struck out six, walked none and induced two more double-play grounders, might have been the last to 10, but that isn't necessarily his fault. Harrison hasn't exactly received the greatest of run support. His team-best 16 quality starts and 3.06 ERA, second behind only Alexi Ogando (2.88) among the starters, show he could easily own a better record than 10-8.
But he's not complaining. It's the first 10-win season of his young, up-and-down career, and what's important is that he's managed to remain consistent and remain poised when under pressure. Through two innings against the Mariners, he needed just 23 pitches. Then he hit a snag in the third and threw 31 pitches in allowing two runs on a pair of doubles and an infield hit that briefly tied the game, 2-2.
"Then he came back and he was very convenient after that. He pounded the zone and made pitches with all his pitches. He was real good," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "And that seventh inning was even better."
The seventh inning was a quick, 12-pitch exit to the showers via a nice hand from the 27,771 that braved another 100-degree night. But, before the seventh, Harrison made pitches in the fifth and sixth that made sure he'd stay out of trouble. In the fifth with Texas leading 4-2, Franklin Gutierrez singled with one out. The next batter, Trayvon Robinson grounded to Elvis Andrus, who turned the second 6-4-3 double play of the game and Harrison's major league-leading 28th of the season.
"My two biggest pitches were the sinker and the curveball," Harrison said. "I was able to throw those consistently for strikes when I needed to. When I got into some jams I was able to make that pitch more than any other one."
The Rangers' offense rewarded him with three runs in the bottom of the inning for a 7-2 lead. Harrison's next test was the sixth inning after giving up a one-out double to Jack Wilson. Dustin Ackley, the Mariners' only .300 hitter entering the game, was up next. He forced Harrison to a full count before grounding out to second on a fielder's choice. Harrison then struck out clean-up hitter Mike Carp to end the inning.
That composure is what has most pleased Harrison this season. Adversity used to be his No. 1 enemy. Adversity now only seems to make him stronger.
"Keeping that consistency, staying mentally tough, and make sure if I get in a tough situation that I tell myself I'm going to get out of it and bear down and make a pitch and make them put the ball in play and not walk guys," Harrison said. "I think that's been the biggest help for me."
The Rangers entered this season with almost as many question marks as last year about their starters. What would C.J. Wilson (10-5, 3.35 ERA) and Colby Lewis (10-8, 4.12 ERA) do for an encore. Tommy Hunter was supposed to be in the rotation, but a spring training injury inserted Ogando (11-5, 2.88 ERA), who pitches Tuesday against Seattle. Would erratic Derek Holland (10-4, 4.35 ERA) pan out? And, could Harrison pitch his way out of trouble and rebound from tough losses?
While the jury is still out in some instances, and the Rangers don't possess a proven ace, the questions surrounding Harrison seem to dissipate with each start.