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Thursday, October 31, 2013
Defining Dozen: Matt Harrison's injury

By Richard Durrett

Editor's Note: This is the ninth of a 12-part series titled "Defining Dozen," which looks at the 12 moments that impacted the 2013 season the most. The moments will include highs and lows for the Texas Rangers from a season that lasted until Game 163.

Matt Harrison, A.J. Pierzynski, Mike Maddux
Matt Harrison won 18 games for the Rangers in 2012 but couldn't get healthy this season.
Moment No. 4: Matt Harrison's injury.

It was supposed to be another consistent, defining year for Matt Harrison. He was coming off an 18-win season in 2012 and had put together two straight seasons of at least 30 starts and an ERA just over 3.00. Harrison had become a reliable pitcher, something he worked hard to accomplish. It earned him a new long-term deal from the Rangers for $55 million over five years.

Based on the 2012 season, it was Harrison and not Yu Darvish that got the start on opening night in Houston (Darvish would start Game 2 and nearly throw a perfect game against the Astros). Harrison gave up five earned runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss. He was on the mound in Arlington a week later and allowed five runs on eight hits in five innings to the Los Angeles Angels.

It was after that start that Harrison complained of back pain. He got two injections and hoped to work through the pain and rehab so he wouldn't miss much time. But after the injections wore off, he experienced numbness down his left foot.

That prompted more evaluation and the decision to have surgery to repair a herniated disk. The initial diagnosis was that Harrison was out until at least the All-Star break but could potentially return at some point shortly after that. But Harrison required another back surgery and still was hopeful he could return to the rotation in September and help with the stretch run.

As Harrison attempted to complete a start during a rehab assignment in Triple-A Round Rock in August, he felt numbness in his throwing hand. So he had his third surgery of the season, this one ending any hopes of returning before 2014. Since the back wasn't going to allow him to pitch anymore during the season, he also had surgery to repair Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his non-throwing shoulder. He had the same condition in 2009 in his left shoulder and had surgery to repair it.

Harrison is expected to be ready to go in the spring. But the surgeries meant the Rangers' rotation was without one of its workhorses from the previous two seasons. That forced some young pitchers into the rotation earlier than expected. Justin Grimm took Harrison's place in April, and Nick Tepesch also played a big role early in the season in the rotation. Grimm was later traded to Chicago as part of the Matt Garza deal.

At first, the Rangers survived OK without Harrison. But like any lingering absence or injury (see Nelson Cruz's suspension), it caught up to them. It's difficult for a rotation to simply move on when you lose a guy who won 18 games the previous season. The Rangers' rotation pitched well, but there's no question Harrison's presence was missed.