ARLINGTON -- There is a majority opinion held among the Rangers' hierarchy that strongly suggests Rich Harden, even when healthy, has not pitched nearly as well as the club hoped for this season. That may be true but another truth is becoming self-evident. Harden may not be a No. 1 starter but he certainly has to be better than what the Rangers are currently getting from their fifth starters. Omar Beltre lasted just three innings on Monday night, giving up four runs, and the Rangers lost to the Cleveland Indians, 9-3, at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers have lost five of their last seven games but remain 3 1/2 games in front of the Angels in the American League West division.
"It was a long game," third baseman Michael Young said. "They played well. We just got out-played tonight. We just need to make sure we make some adjustments and come out ready to roll tomorrow." Beltre, making his second start since being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City, allowed four hits, including two home runs, walked three and struck out three. Beltre threw 72 pitches and now has a 9.00 ERA over seven innings in those two starts. "I saw great stuff," catcher Bengie Molina said. "I really did. His ball moves. He has a great slider and a great splitter. He just fell behind a couple of hitters and he had to come around the plate to some great hitters. He was just missing some spots and threw a lot of pitches." The question is if he'll get a third start. The Rangers will need a fifth starter to pitch on Saturday against the Orioles. Right now Beltre is the fifth starter but the Rangers are hardly committed to that concept. "Right now I'm concerned about C.J. Wilson tomorrow night," manager Ron Washington said. "We'll deal with that spot when it comes back up." The Rangers could easily turn to Matt Harrison, who made his first start at Oklahoma City on Monday since being optioned to the Minors last week. Harrison, who had been pitching out of the Rangers' bullpen before being sent down, allowed four runs, three earned, on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out four. It wasn't an exceptionally impressive start but Harrison threw 79 pitches, putting him in a position to throw 90 or more for the Rangers on Saturday. He also has considerably more Major League experience than Beltre. Harrison, who started the year in the rotation before being moved to the bullpen, is 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA in six starts for the Rangers this season and 14-9 with a 5.67 ERA in 32 Major League starts. Blake Beavan pitched for Double-A Frisco on Saturday and allowed seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. But, after the game, he was promoted to Oklahoma City, a move that has been in the works for weeks regardless of how Beltre pitched on Monday. But that still allows him to slide into Harrison's spot at Oklahoma City if needed. Harden is on the disabled list with a strained lower back muscle and hasn't pitched since a 6-2 loss to the Brewers on June 11. Since then the Rangers have used Dustin Nippert and Beltre as his replacement and in four starts they have combined to allow 12 runs on 20 hits over just 13 innings while walking 12 and striking out 20. Harden is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Tuesday and the possibility exists he could be ready to rejoin the rotation after the All-Star break. The Rangers will want him to pitch at least once in the Minor Leagues on medical rehabilitation assignment but they have plenty of time to get him ready. "We just want him to be ready after the All-Star break," Washington said. "I don't have a date for you. We just want to get him healthy and ready to go." The All-Star break is July 12-14 so the Rangers will not need a fifth starter until July 19 against the Tigers. Derek Holland, on the disabled list with inflammation in the left shoulder as well as a sprained right knee, could also be an option right after the All-Star break but it appears Harden is a little farther along in the process right now. "We certainly want to get both healthy," Washington said. "If we get them both healthy, we certainly know we have two good pitchers." Beltre, who had pitched in just 37 2/3 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City before being called up last week, got through the first inning without allowing a run. But a two-out walk to Matt LaPorte in the second cost him as singles by Trevor Crow and Jason Donald gave the Indians a 1-0 lead. The Indians, who scored in six consecutive innings, added three more in the third. Carlos Santana led off with a home run and LaPorte hit a two-run shot with two outs in the inning. Nippert took over in the fourth. Nippert was much more effective as a reliever this season but struggled too on Monday night, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks without striking anybody out.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.