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Sunday, September 4, 2011
Rest makes difference for Matt Harrison

By Richard Durrett


BOSTON -- It was the final few innings of Matt Harrison's start that showed pitching coach Mike Maddux how much rest made a difference.

"The velocity was there, it was just that this time there was sustainability," Maddux said. "I liked his aggressiveness in the zone and his stamina."

Harrison did too. After three struggling starts that included no outings more than five innings and 14 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings, Harrison admitted that he needed a break. He didn't want to take one, but once the club told him he didn't have a choice, he embraced it. And Sunday, he showed how much he took advantage of it.

Harrison's velocity was in the mid-90s, even hitting 97 mph a few times, and he gave up two runs on seven hits in seven innings in an 11-4 victory. The Rangers took two out of three games in Boston and head to Tampa with a 3 1/2 game lead in the AL West.

"My legs were under me the whole game," Harrison said. "Even when I got up to 110 pitches, I still felt good. I felt fresh. Mentally, it was good for me to have that break. I could get my focus back on what I needed to do and focus on getting the ball down and commanding the strike zone. It was big to come back here and redeem myself against these guys."

It was a rough outing against the Red Sox that helped push the Rangers into spot starting Scott Feldman last Tuesday against Tampa Bay and giving Harrison a break. He gave up seven runs on 11 hits in five innings in a 13-2 Rangers loss in Arlington on Aug. 24. He wasn't able to work out of jams, didn't have any crispness on his fastball and showed signs of fatigue.

A different Harrison was on the mound at Fenway Park on Sunday.

"He really battled," Ian Kinsler said. "He got himself in a little bit of trouble today and he was able to work out of it. He was able to make big pitches when he needed to and that was the game. He made the big pitches and that's a sign of a good pitcher."

His first major jam was the second. The Rangers had just scored a run to take the lead and the first two Red Sox batters got on base. But on a 3-2 pitch to Conor Jackson, Harrison threw a 97 mph fastball and got him to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. It was the 29th time Harrison had induced a double play, which leads the majors. He then struck out left-handed hitting Carl Crawford on a nasty curve to end the inning.

Harrison got into trouble in the fifth with a runner at second and one out and made a good pitch to handcuff Jacoby Ellsbury just enough that his hit to center field stayed up long enough for Kinsler to make a great diving catch.

"That was huge," manager Ron Washington said. "That kept them from getting anything going there."

In the seventh, with the Rangers ahead 9-2, Harrison looked like he wouldn't be able to wiggle out of the inning. But with two runs already in and a runner at first, he got Ellsbury to pop out to first and Mike Aviles to fly out to right to end the frame.

Harrison's performance came a few days after Derek Holland shut down the Red Sox. So both of the Rangers' young lefties did the job. That may be a blueprint for how the Rangers approach things come the postseason with all the big left-handed bats in the Boston lineup.

"They both came in and did what we needed," Washington said. "Anytime you can come in and beat a team like Boston, it provides confidence. But now we go on to the next one and try to keep playing."

And they do so feeling like they've got the Matt Harrison that was so impressive in May, June and July going again.