Commentary

Matt Harrison has deep thoughts

Rangers lefty is learning how to stay in games longer, give team chance to win

Updated: June 14, 2012, 1:08 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A closed-door meeting more than a month ago with Ron Washington has made Matt Harrison a better pitcher.

Finally, Harrison understands the difference between pitching in the game's first six innings and the last three. And now that he's giving Washington the results he wants, the manager is letting him pitch deeper into games.

The result: Both men are happy.

[+] EnlargeMatt Harrison
Rick Yeatts/Getty ImagesMatt Harrison didn't get his ninth win Wednesday, but he was in control through 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks.

The Rangers won for the fourth time in five games Wednesday night because Harrison turned in yet another terrific performance.

Harrison allowed just six hits in 7 1/3 innings with two walks and three strikeouts as the Rangers slipped past Arizona 1-0 on Craig Gentry's two-out single in the eighth inning.

It was just the 11th 1-0 game in Rangers Ballpark's 18-year history but the second this season. The Rangers beat Seattle 1-0 in April.

Harrison, who has a streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings, didn't get the win. Who cares, aside from Harrison's agent?

Any starting pitcher will tell you his job is to keep his team in the game and give it a chance to win. Harrison, matching zeros with Arizona's Wade Miley, did exactly what he's supposed to do.

If he's not careful, we'll start getting used to this.

After all, Harrison has now tossed five consecutive quality starts. Some folks can't stand talking about quality starts because all a pitcher has to do is pitch six innings and yield no more than three earned runs, which equates to a 4.50 ERA.

That said, each of Harrison's past five starts has been superior.

He's pitched into the seventh inning in all of them, and he's gone into the eighth in three. He's yielded two runs or fewer in four of them.

"He's throwing strike one," Washington said. "He's had a good sinker and a good cutter, and he's making pitches with two outs and getting out of innings."

He did it again Wednesday night.

Harrison threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 28 batters, and during this string of fabulous performances, he's thrown first-pitch strikes to 93 of 145 batters (64.1 percent).

Washington He's throwing strike one. He's had a good sinker and a good cutter, and he's making pitches with two outs and getting out of innings.

-- Rangers manager Ron Washingon
on pitcher Matt Harrison

That's the key to Harrison controlling hitters and getting them to swing at his pitch instead of waiting on a certain pitch in a certain zone.

In Harrison's past five starts, he has 21 strikeouts and seven walks.

Harrison left the game after yielding a one-out double to Willie Bloomquist on a 1-1 pitch in the eighth.

When Washington emerged from the dugout, Harrison thought he was just coming to discuss the situation.

After all, he had thrown only 95 pitches -- 64 balls and 31 strikes -- and had survived a 29-minute rain delay by riding a stationary bike and playing catch.

But when Washington arrived on the mound, he told Harrison he wanted right-handed reliever Mike Adams to face right-handed batters Aaron Hill and Justin Upton.

As Harrison walked to the dugout, the 17th sellout crowd of the season gave him a standing ovation.

First, he waved his glove. Then he tipped his hat.

"It was the right move," Harrison said of being pulled. "You never want to come out of a game, but the way Adams and Joe Nathan have been pitching, it was the right thing to do in that situation."

Hill flied out to center, and Upton struck out. Nathan retired the side in the ninth, preserving the win.

More important, Harrison had peace of mind.

A month ago, that wouldn't have been the case. He would have been seething about being pulled from a game.

Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux appreciate his attitude, but during their meeting, Washington told Harrison he must earn the right to stay in the game after the sixth inning.

That's because all it takes is one bad pitch to lose a ballgame. Washington told Harrison that he needed to concentrate more and pitch better in the seventh inning if he wanted the ball in the eighth.

And he had to do even more in the eighth to get the ball in the ninth. Washington told Harrison he had no tolerance for walks and bad pitches at winning time.

Harrison accepted the criticism and has worked hard to be better in the later innings than he is early in the game.

"It was a good talk," Harrison said. "It's up to me to keep my pitch count down, and I can't make mistakes late in the game or they're going to the bullpen.

"If I want to stay in the game longer, then I've got to make good pitches late in the game."

Sometimes, the game isn't complicated.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES