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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Surprise positional outlook: No. 4 starter

By Richard Durrett

We're still looking at the Rangers' starting rotation with our quick-hit outlooks heading into spring training later this month.

Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison pitched a career-high 185 2/3 innings and was 14-9 with 126 strikeouts and 57 walks in 2011. The Rangers won 13 of his final 16 starts and were 20-10 in his 30 starts overall.
Today's position: No. 4 starter

Let's talk about Matt Harrison, who could fall into the No. 4 spot, just behind Yu Darvish and breaking up the lefties with Derek Holland in the No. 2 slot. Again, the Rangers haven't set the rotation, so this is mere speculation.

Harrison was another young starter who took an important step in 2011. After starting the 2009 and 2010 seasons in the rotation, Harrison wasn't able to finish either season there. Left shoulder inflammation that was later diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome cut short his 2009 season. He was the club's fifth starter in 2010 and made six starts before landing on the DL with biceps tendinitis. He returned as a member of the bullpen.

A good spring in 2011 helped him break for the third consecutive spring in the rotation, but this time he held his spot. Harrison pitched a career-high 185 2/3 innings and was 14-9 with 126 strikeouts and 57 walks. The Rangers won 13 of his final 16 starts and were 20-10 in his 30 starts overall. He stayed healthy for the most part, too. He missed a start because of a blister on his left index finger, but he played through a kidney stone and didn't let a line drive off his left triceps force him to miss time.

He did all of it despite having the lowest run support average among Texas starters per nine innings (4.99). He received three runs or fewer in 18 of his 30 starts. Harrison pitched at least six innings in 23 starts, yet was the only member of the season-opening rotation without a complete game.

RANGERS POSITION OUTLOOK
Jan. 23: Catcher
Jan. 24: First base
Jan. 25: Second base
Jan. 26: Third base
Jan. 27: Shortstop
Jan. 30: Left field
Jan. 31: Center field
Feb. 1: Right field
Feb. 2: DH/Utility
Feb. 3: Bench
Feb. 6: No. 1 starter
Feb. 7: No. 2 starter
Feb. 8: No. 3 starter
Feb. 9: No. 4 starter
Feb. 10: No. 5 starter
Feb. 13: Middle/long relief
Feb. 14: Late-inning relief
Feb. 15: Coaches
Feb. 16: Manager
Feb. 17: Front office
In the postseason, Harrison was up and down. He was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the ALDS, which sent the Rangers to the ALCS. But Harrison also started Game 7 of the World Series and allowed three runs on five hits in four innings (two of those runs were in the bottom of the first after the Rangers had taken a 2-0 lead). He had a 7.04 ERA in the World Series in two starts. Still, it was valuable experience and Harrison has vowed to learn from it.

"Being able to make pretty much all my starts last year was big for me and get that full season starting under my belt, which I wasn’t able to do the two previous seasons breaking camp," said Harrison, before signing autographs at the Rangers Caravan stop in Frisco late last month. "Hopefully, this year I can do the same thing and go out there and give them a chance to win every time out.

"I really feel like I’m prepared to go physically too and am looking forward to learning from last year and improving on the mistakes I made."

Harrison feels good about his conditioning and wants to continue to build strength and stamina. He certainly comes into spring training in a different frame of mind thanks to his staying power in 2011.