What I would do with Matt Harrison.

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Crazy: One month in,

No pitching moves yet, all year

I’m ready for one.


Disgusting win. 


The best teams lose games, the Royals win games, but the
bottom line is that even though you can’t win ’em all, you can at least expect
to play winning baseball.  That, despite the
W, was not winning baseball.


I’ll take it, of course. 
I’m thrilled that Texas escaped with a victory, and did it with some
great work off a sensational closer, regaining a tie for the division lead.  But . . . geez.


I was at the game, which usually means a Twitter
assault.  The first tweet I posted: “Harrison
deals over first two frames.  Tomorrow’s Newberg
Report already written.”


It may just be wishful thinking, but I’d decided two things before
the game:


If Matt Harrison got bombed last night, it would be time for
Derek Holland.


If Harrison pitched well early on, it would be time for Derek
Holland, with Harrison giving the bullpen a boost.


What I didn’t count on was not only the latter coming into
play . . . but the bullpen, on the same night, also hammering home the need for
a shot in the arm.


Harrison’s first inning: 11 strikes, six balls, four up,
three down.


Harrison’s second: nine strikes, two balls, three up, three


(Then the tweet.)


Harrison’s third: eight strikes, three balls, three up,
three down.


By time Harrison trotted out for the fourth inning, he’d
been staked to an 8-0 lead, and had thrown an economical 39 pitches, an extremely
efficient 28 of them for strikes.  He’d gone
through the Royals order plus one, and was very good.


The baseball marching orders for “doing what the game asks
you to do” (a frequent Wash-ism) were clear at that point.  Given the situation that an early eight-run
lead presents, you throw strikes (his 72 percent strike rate was matched by
first-pitch strikes to seven of 10 batters through three innings), let the
defense do its job, save the bullpen (at least the key guys), and get this one
in the books.


Instead, in the fourth and fifth, Harrison faced a dozen
hitters, started seven of them off with a 1-0 count, and gave up a home run, two
singles, and three walks – including a five-pitch walk to number eight hitter
Mitch Maier to start the fifth, followed by a four-pitch free pass to number
nine hitter Yuniesky Betancourt, who’d earned all of one base on balls all season
(101 plate appearances).


Harrison’s night was done, needing 95 pitches to get through
five innings (those 39 pitches through three frames were followed by 56 in the next
two), and awful work by Dustin Nippert on his 29th birthday forced
Texas to use every member of the pen other than Darren Oliver and Doug Mathis.  The club lost the lead before pulling things
out in the dramatic eighth.


Can we blame Harrison’s collapse on the 127 pitches he threw
last time out?  I suppose if you were to
look solely a his final line – four runs on four hits and three walks in five
innings – but how does that excuse his inability to get the job done after the first
time through the Kansas City lineup?  He admitted
after the game to a bout of minor stiffness that cropped up in the third inning
and again in the fifth.  Whether that’s
an excuse or not, Harrison’s effectiveness fell off a cliff against a bad team,
allowing them to get back into a game they had no business being in, and it
took a nearly full complement of relievers and a heroic late-inning comeback to
nail down a win that should have been a gimme.


Let’s face it: Assuming nobody gets hurt, the rotation is
pretty simple to assess.  Scott Feldman
is not going to lose his job.  Rich
Harden has bought himself several more starts at the very least, after the gem
he pitched Monday.  C.J. Wilson and Colby
Lewis have been two of the great pitching stories in the American League so


Meanwhile, Holland has an ERA of 0.93 in six AAA
starts.  He’s striking out a batter per
inning, walking less than one-fifth as many. 
He’s commanding everything, including an improved slider.  He’s ready to get back up here.  And Harrison’s spot is the only logical one
for Holland to claim.


But getting back to the original point: I’d like to see
Harrison moved to relief, rather than the RedHawks.  It probably means an option for Mathis, but
right now the bullpen could probably use another lefthander, and the fact that
Harrison can give the club two or three innings if needed gives him a chance to
be used in a couple different ways.


Would Harrison’s stuff play up coming out of the pen?  Hard to say. 
There are some promising numbers: batters leading off an inning against
Harrison this season are hitting .161/.278/.194.  If used against key left-handed hitters on
nights that Oliver is unavailable (or earlier in the game than the club wants
to use the veteran), Harrison can be called on: lefties are hitting .200 off
him this year.


But with runners on base, Harrison’s opponents are hitting .306/.362/.532.  And he needs to hold runners better.


On top of that, interestingly, before last night’s effort, the
first time Harrison had faced a hitter in a game in 2010, his opponents were
hitting .350/.422/.475.  The second time:
.256/.341/.436.  The third: .147/.194/.265.  Those numbers suggest he gets stronger as he
gets deeper into the game. 


But not last night.  And
I’m ready for Holland.


Holland’s regular day to pitch comes around on Sunday.  Would you push Feldman back two days (the
team is idle on Monday), after his 111-pitch effort on Tuesday that started so
poorly but ended well?  Probably not.  Six days of rest is too much.  Move Colby Lewis from Tuesday (which will already
be after an extra day of rest) to Wednesday? 


Harrison is slated to pitch again on Wednesday, at home against
Oakland (unless the club skips his turn with Monday’s off-day affording that
opportunity, pitching Lewis on Tuesday but accelerating Wilson to Wednesday, keeping
him on regular rest).  To ask Holland to
take the ball that day will mean he’ll have had seven days of rest, after
throwing only 83 pitches on Tuesday.  It’s
not ideal, but is it a better option than sending Harrison out there again?  I think so.


But the best option?  Skip
Harrison on Wednesday (chalk it up to the minor tendinitis, not serious enough
for a disabled list stay), let him pitch in mop-up relief if needed (or DL him
and bring up a reliever temporarily), and bring Holland up to make the start on
Saturday the 15th in Toronto, so that Lewis doesn’t have to pitch on
short rest.  Holland can make his next
RedHawks start, this Sunday in Iowa, and then join the Rangers in time for the
start in Toronto, with one extra day of rest.


Holland’s worst start in the big leagues came against the
Blue Jays, on August 31 (10 runs in three-plus innings).  But with the improved command and breaking
ball that he’s shown in AAA, he’s earned the chance to be recalled when the team
needs him, as opposed to spotted against the right opponent.


Would I prefer it if Harrison had thrown a gem last night in
front of Royals GM Dayton Moore, who is under contract with Kansas City through
2014 and was in Atlanta when the big lefthander had developed into one of the
Braves’ top prospects, teeing it up for me to suggest that Texas (assuming resolution
of the ownership issue) could try to pry Zack Greinke free in July with an
offer of something like Harrison, Wilmer Font, Alexi Ogando, and the Royals’
choice of Mitch Moreland, Engel Beltre, or Miguel Velazquez?  Of course.


But he didn’t, and though I’ve been ready for a couple weeks
to see Holland back in Texas, now I’m really ready.


A few more things:


Wilson faces Greinke tonight, but the marquee matchup shouldn’t
faze him.  Wilson’s opponents in 2010: C.C.
Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, AL ERA leader Doug Fister, Ricky Romero (quality starts
five times out of six, fourth in the league in strikeouts), and Clay


The Rangers have said Jarrod Saltalamacchia will not return
to Texas today, when he’s first eligible to do so.  He’s hitting well (.367/.407/.633, 12-game
hit streak) but is still dogged by throwing issues.


Yes, I’m concerned about Michael Young.


I sure do enjoy watching Vladimir Guerrero do what the games
asks him to do.


Having Ian Kinsler back in the lineup (did you notice the
difference in his front shoulder and his bat path last night?) and in the
infield makes a huge difference.  I’m
eager to see what the offense can do on a consistent basis once Kinsler and
Nelson Cruz are in the lineup together.


Julio Borbon’s outs look bad.  I’m not so sure Craig Gentry doesn’t stick
around once Cruz is activated next Wednesday, with Borbon going back to Oklahoma
City for some needed work.  It may be
time to start paying attention to Endy Chavez’s rehab progress.


Justin Smoak’s nine-pitch at-bat in the third, culminating
in the missile to right, was a thing of beauty. 


Is Josh Hamilton going to settle in to be as streaky as Dean


Admit it: It’s getting difficult to imagine Neftali Feliz
becoming a starting pitcher.


10.  Tangentially
related subject: Tanner Scheppers, who logged two innings in five of his six
Frisco appearances (one run on three hits and zero walks, with 19 strikeouts in
11 innings) and in his first Oklahoma City appearance (one run on three hits
and one walk, two strikeouts), is reportedly on a plan under which he’ll soon
be asked to pitch three innings a couple times a week, and then ramp up further
to four innings a shot.  The idea is to
stretch Scheppers out gradually so that he’s not only a bullpen candidate in
Arlington later this season but also an option for the rotation should the need
arise.  My money?  He’ll be getting eighth-inning outs in
August.  Incidentally, both of the runs
Scheppers has permitted this year have come on solo home runs.  Those two pitches aren’t the sole reason the
club wants the 23-year-old to work on getting the ball down.  When Texas League opponents managed to put the
ball in play against him, he got twice as many outs in the air as on the ground.


11.  The
Yankees, having lost Curtis Granderson to the disabled list, have recalled
outfielder Greg Golson from AAA.  Florida
designated Mike Lamb for assignment. 
Seattle placed malcontent Milton Bradley on the restricted list.


12.  If
you’re in the business of making custom baseball cards (say, for a Little League
team), give me a shout.


13.  The
Rangers are hosting a “Mom’s on the Mound” event on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until
noon at the Ballpark.  Those attending (men
are invited as well) will go through hitting, pitching, and fielding rotations on
the field, get instruction from Rangers staff, and play a game.  You’ll also get to take photos with Nelson Cruz
and Clint Hurdle.  The cost is $79 and
includes a ticket to that night’s Rangers-Royals game.  More details at texasrangers.com/women. 


14.  Finally,
I’m excited to announce that I’m going to do a live, in-game chat session on Wednesday, May 19, at FoxSportsSouthwest.com.  If it goes well, we may try it a few times
per month.  Hope you’ll stop by to participate
or just take the action in while we discuss the Rangers-Orioles game as it
unfolds.  More details as we get closer.


As it stands now, May 19 would be Derek Holland’s normal day
to pitch for Oklahoma City – if the RedHawks weren’t idle that day. 


But I’m betting right now he’ll be in uniform that night anyway,
sitting near Mike Maddux in the home dugout and watching Baltimore’s hitters in
preparation for the following night’s start, rather than getting settled in
Portland at the end of a travel day.





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(c) Jamey Newberg




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