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Friday, April 15, 2011
Matt Harrison keeps proving he belongs

By Richard Durrett

NEW YORK -- Need any more proof that it's a different Matt Harrison on the mound this year for the Rangers than in past years?

Friday's eight-inning performance in a 5-3 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium was more evidence that this year's version of Harrison doesn't resemble the previous ones. It was Harrison's third start of the year, which was when his 2010 troubles began and got him going on a rough streak that led to a stint on the disabled list and then a move to the bullpen.

But not this year. The 25-year-old left-hander held the vaunted Yankees lineup to two runs (one earned) in a 5-3 victory in the first game of a three-game series. He did it thanks to a steady diet of sinkers that led to plenty of ground balls and a record-tying six double plays. Yes, six. He becomes just the third pitcher since 1954 to induce six ground ball double plays in a game, joining Mark Buehrle (Aug. 7, 2009) and Kansas City's Dick Drago (May 6, 1972).

Harrison had 15 ground-ball outs and despite three walks, seven hits allowed and some difficulty getting loose in the fifth inning, the lefty made it through eight innings and got another big win.

"It seemed like guys were swinging early and if I made a good pitch down and away, I could get a ground ball," Harrison said. "[The double plays] kept the pitch count down and let me go deeper in the game."

Harrison's outing didn't start out well. He gave up singles to Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher and then battled Mark Teixeira. But he got the former Ranger on a strikeout and then threw a changeup to Alex Rodriguez to induce the first of the AL-tying six double plays.

"That was a big point in the game for me," Harrison said. "I thought I made two good pitches to Jeter and Swisher and they put good wood on it. I was able to bear down right there and make my pitches and the defense played well all game for me."

Earning a win at Yankee Stadium against a good team can only help Harrison's confidence. Last year, he gave up two earned runs in his first 13 innings before facing Boston at Fenway Park. Harrison lasted just four innings, gave up six runs and never really got things figured out after that.

But it's a new Harrison in 2011. This guy is mentally tough. He attacks hitters, doesn't panic and believes he has the stuff to get anybody out in any situation.

"He got behind in the count right away and was maybe trying to be too fine with the 2-seamer, but he made an adjustment and came right back and was on it," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "He's making the right adjustments and slowing himself down."

Harrison got rid of his super-quick delivery in favor of a more slow, deliberate approach. It's allowed him to regroup easier, but he also has to make sure he stays in rhythm. The Rangers scored three runs for him in the fifth inning -- with just one hit thanks to three walks and three wild pitches -- and Harrison had to sit for a while.

"It took me probably 10 pitches to get loose that inning," Harrison said. "I probably should have gone inside and sat in here and stayed in the heat and I didn't. I think it kind of cost me a little bit. I started off the inning with a walk. I was able to battle through it."

A double play once again helped him as he fielded a chopper by Jeter and got some help from Elvis Andrus, who snagged it and made the throw to first.

"I jumped as high as I could," Andrus said. "You want to make those plays."

Andrus joked that the outfielders had to be pretty mad to not see much action on a cold night at Yankee Stadium. Harrison started another double play in the seventh and got one to end the eighth. When he put men on base or couldn't quite find his control (Harrison threw 104 pitches, but only 59 strikes), he stayed focus and find a way to grind through it.

"I'm mentally tougher this year and I think that helps," Harrison said.

It's certainly showing up in the results. Harrison finds himself among the league leaders so far this season. He's 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA, allowing just three earned runs in 22 innings. He's pitched at least seven innings in all three of his starts.

That's a trend he's never had before in his Major League career as he does his best to show he's ready to be considered a solid member of the Rangers' rotation.