Saturday, July 31, 2010
Ranger Reax: Welcome back, Rich Harden
By Richard Durrett
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels made one more addition before the trade deadline: a new and improved Rich Harden.
The version the Rangers saw Saturday was one they've only seen once this season -- in Oakland on May 3. Harden, fresh off the disabled list and back from a couple of rehab starts that he felt were productive, gave up one run on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in seven innings. Here's what we saw from this revamped Harden:
* Excellent command. The fastball stayed around 90-91, but when he needed it, he got it up to 93 mph (like on a strikeout of Erick Aybar to end the fifth). Harden threw 70 percent strikes on Saturday. Harden wasn't the same guy that used to throw all those split-finger fastballs a few years ago.
"He’s reinvented himself for sure," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He used to have that really power fastball with the split, that was really his best stuff. ... Obviously he’s learning to pitch with less velocity."
* Efficiency. Harden had averaged 19.9 pitches per inning in 2010 coming into Saturday's game. In his seven innings of work, Harden averaged 12.6, more than seven fewer pitches per inning. A little perspective: Harden needed 88 pitches to get through seven innings. He threw 86 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against Toronto on May 14. He threw 90 or more pitches in 3 2/3 innings in two starts in April. Saturday was an incredible improvement.
"I knew they would be aggressive and my game plan was to throw strikes," Harden said. "My defense played well behind me."
* Manager Ron Washington left Harden in to face Maicer Izturis with two on and two out in a 2-1 game in the seventh because Harden had owned Izturis, a switch hitter batting from the left side, in that game. The decision worked as Harden got the out. It also provided him with a huge boost of confidence.
"It definitely feels good to get back out there on the mound," Harden said. "I've been thinking about it for a while. It's hard not to think about it, and to get that first one out of the way feels good. I'm looking forward to getting out there the next trip."
* Harden said it was neat to face Dan Haren, a former teammate of Harden's at Oakland.
"I've kept up with him with Arizona and he pitched a great game tonight," Harden said. "It was fun matching up against him."
* Washington called Frank Francisco's performance in the eighth inning MVP-worthy. Francisco had to face the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in a 2-1 game. He got Bobby Abreu to ground out to second and struck out Torii Hunter swinging and Hideki Matsui looking. "The adreneline was pumping," Francisco said. "I just wanted to go out and use my best stuff."
* Vladimir Guerrero said what made his home run special Saturday was that it was his son Pablo's fourth birthday. Guerrero hit a good Haren pitch into the rock formation in left-center field to give the Rangers their only two runs of the game.
"In the past before, I've been able to hit balls low in the strike zone and drive them out of the ballpark," Guerrero said through a translator (Julio Borbon, actually). "It was one of those where I got good wood on it and it was a good pitch from him."
Guerrero is now 8-for-20 (.400) with four HR, 2B, four R and 12 RBI in five games at Angel Stadium in 2010.
* Jorge Cantu had a nice first start as a Ranger. He had a hit in the fourth inning (single to center) and made two very nice diving stops on ground balls at first base.
* A random note: Elvis Andrus rode an elephant as part of a FSSW feature during the road trip. He and teammate David Murphy went to the Orange County Fair. "We walked in and the elephants were there, so we did it," Andrus said. "It was fun. I learned that elephants are strong."